Civil Society Organizations Brief the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the Situation of Women in Ukraine, Honduras, Gambia and Switzerland
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon was briefed by representatives of non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions about the situation of women’s rights in Ukraine, Honduras, Gambia and Switzerland, whose reports the Committee will review this week.
In relation to Ukraine, Vololdymr Dzhydzhora, Head of the International Cooperation and European Integration Department of the Office of the Commissioner, Office of the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, said the armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine had exacerbated existing challenges and created new challenges for the realisation of the rights of different groups of women and men. Non-governmental organizations speaking on Ukraine raised a number of issues, including sexual violence faced by women and girls as a result of the Russian occupation, discrimination against women who used drugs, and the unequal treatment of indigenous Crimean Tatar women.
Concerning Honduras, Blanca Izaguierre, Defensora del Pueblo, Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, demanded a prompt response to the appeal on abortion, and that the prohibition of the use and sale of the emergency contraceptive pill should be eliminated. Non-governmental organizations speaking on Honduras raised several issues, including the high level of femicide in the country, the ban on abortion, and the lack of protection for rural women.
The non-governmental organizations speaking on behalf of Gambia raised issues on Sharia law, polygamy, the prevalence of female genital mutilation, and the threats faced by female human rights defenders.
On Switzerland, Christian Bruchez, Swiss Federal Commission for Women’s Issues, called on Switzerland to increase resources for the intended national human rights institution, and that the issue of gender equality be addressed as a priority. Non-governmental organizations speaking on Switzerland raised several issues, including unequal pay, discriminatory stereotypes, and the State’s approach to prostitution.
The Head of the International Cooperation and European Integration Department of the Office of the Commissioner, Office of the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, spoke on Ukraine. The following non-governmental organizations also spoke: Civil movement “Faith Hope Love”; Club Eney with Women and Harm Reduction International Network; Ukrainian Women Lawyers Association “JurFem”; Kyiv Institute for Gender Studies and Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine; and “Crimean Tatar Resource Centre”.
The Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos spoke on Honduras as did the following non-governmental organizations: Human Rights, Women and Feminist Organizations; We Lead; CRR; and Food First Information and Action Network.
Women’s Association for Victims’ Empowerment and Women in Liberation and Leadership spoke on behalf of Gambia.
The Swiss Federal Commission for Women’s Issues spoke on behalf of Switzerland, as well as the following non-governmental organizations: NGO-Coordination post Beijing Switzerland; InterAction; End Demand; and Feminist for a People’s Vaccine Campaign.
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 in public at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 18 October, to review the ninth periodic report of Ukraine (CEDAW/C/UKR/9).
Opening Remarks by the Chair
GLADYS ACOSTA VARGAS, Committee Chairperson, said this was an opportunity for non-governmental organizations to provide information on States parties whose reports were being considered during the second week of the session: Ukraine, Honduras, Gambia and Switzerland.
Discussion with Non-governmental Organizations from Ukraine, Honduras, Gambia and Switzerland
On Ukraine, Civil movement “Faith Hope Love” said the war started by Russia in Ukraine had led to cities being completely destroyed by shelling. Over 1,000 hospitals and 2,000 educational institutions had been destroyed by the Russian army. More than seven million people had been internally displaced, with more than 1 million of these being children. The national action plan needed to be finalised to meet the challenges of the war. Attention needed to be paid to women with children who had left Ukraine. Ukraine had ratified the Istanbul Convention, and the alignment of Ukrainian laws with the Convention needed to be sped up, with special attention paid to rural women. Women suffering from HIV/AIDS and organizations supporting them suffered from discrimination and stigmatisation, and it was important to protect them.
Club Eney with Women and Harm Reduction International Network said women who used drugs in Ukraine were faced with gendered challenges presented by ineffective drug policies. In the context of punitive drug policies, women who used drugs experienced elevated rates of gender-based violence at the hands of intimate partners, and state perpetrators, including police. Women who used drugs also experienced high incarceration rates and there were currently no alternatives other than imprisonment. Ukraine was asked to urgently reverse the gendered and failed policy of drug prohibition and decriminalise all drug use. Women who used drugs should be included in the development of services that affected them, and all shelters for women needed to be reformed to allow access by women who used drugs. The immediate abolition of the deprivation of child custody due to drug use was also demanded.
Ukrainian Women Lawyers Association “JurFem” said the lack of public prosecutions for sexual violence in the law was contrary to international human rights standards. It was recommended that article 2 be amended to ensure all prosecutions of sexual violent crimes. The practice in Ukraine of demanding corroborating evidence of women who had been victims of rape was discriminatory, and not in line with human rights standards. Guidance and conduct training should be rolled out to ensure this discriminatory practice did not take place. It was also recommended that measures were planned to support women survivors of sexual violence, and that an effective implementation of the definition of rape be provided.
Kyiv Institute for Gender Studies and Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine said women in Ukraine faced discrimination when looking for work and during their employment. Frequent grounds for discrimination within the labour market included age and disability. Women over the age of 40 often experienced discrimination during recruitment and in the workplace, and women often experienced sexual harassment and sexual violence at work. Ukraine needed to conduct a gender analysis and review changes to labour legislation directed against the rights of women and mothers. International labour standards needed to be adhered to, and gender equality needed to be added to the mandate of the labour inspectorate. A new legislative mechanism needed to be created for protection against sexual harassment.
NGO “Crimean Tatar Resource Centre” said the motherland of the indigenous Crimean Tatar people had been under Russian occupation for eight years, and during that time 12 women had been murdered. Since the occupation of the peninsula, Crimea Tatar lawyers had been systemically persecuted by the occupational administration. The Committee should investigate the issue of women’s involvement in the peace building process and develop a mechanism for the effective protection of indigenous women who had been persecuted by the State.
Concerning Honduras, Human Rights, Women and Feminist Organizations said in the last five years, there had been more than 2,000 cases of femicides, and more than 5,000 cases of sexual assault had been registered in the last two years; 750 early marriage unions were record in 2022. Honduras was one of the six countries in the continent which still banned abortion and the National Congress had amended the Constitution to prohibit the legalisation of abortion from taking place at a later date.
We Lead said women with HIV and disabilities in Honduras faced forced sterilisation by health workers, and the practices were not investigated or prosecuted by the law. Messages of hate and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex persons were not prohibited. Girls and women often became pregnant along the migration route as a result of sexual violence. Women continued to experience violence in the workplace, especially domestic workers, and Honduras had still not ratified International Labour Organization Conventions 189 and 119. We Lead called on the Committee to hold the Government accountable for the rights of Honduran woman, and to enforce law and practices that upheld substantive equality.
CRR said in Honduras, one women was killed every day, and eight sexual assaults took place against women and girls daily. The State consistently ignored its responsibility to guarantee the lives of women and girls. In January 2021, the Constitution was reformed to include the prohibition of abortion and introduce a shield, making it impossible to legalise it in the future. During the coup, the prohibition of the use of the emergency pill had been instated, and 13 years later this had not been reversed. This would not require resources, but rather the political will of the Government.
Food First Information and Action Network said rural women generally engaged in fishing, agriculture, and informal trade, and were confronted with multiple discriminations, violating their right to adequate food and nutrition. They were not protected by labour law or social security legislation. Public policies did not establish clear and legal frameworks for protection, or access to credit for groups of women, including fisher woman and indigenous women. The fishing activity and the local economy were severely jeopardised by the effects of climate change, which had led to a decrease in the volumes of fish stocks. Fishing families also faced marine intrusion that had caused damage and loss of homes. Government responses had been non-existent. The Network requested that the Committee recommend that Honduras strengthen land access, technical assistance, and credit programmes for rural women. There should be a relocation of houses for women affected by these issues.
Regarding Gambia, Women’s Association for Victims’ Empowerment welcomed that Gambia had appointed two females to the Sharia Court. However, although Gambia legally prohibited child marriage and female genital mutilation, there was concern about the implementation of the prohibition of these practices, which remained prevalent in the country. The Constitution stated that the prohibition of discrimination did not apply in respect of adoption, marriage, divorce and evolution of property upon death. Discrimination of women in these areas was not in conformity with Gambia’s human rights obligations. Gambia’s family laws remained patriarchal. Polygamy continued to be practiced. The Committee was recommended to urge Gambia to urgently repeal discriminatory provisions, and harmonise the Women’s Act and other national legislation, to ensure that Muslim women and girls enjoyed the same rights as men in all aspects of family life.
Women in Liberation and Leadership said in 2015, the Committee had found that violence in Gambia was widespread, and this remained the same today. Practices such as female genital mutilation were still prevalent, without prosecution. Sexual and gender-based violence against women was prevalent in Gambia, as a result of inequality linked to the patriarchal culture. Women who had been victims of sexual violence were now even more reluctant to report this to authorities, due to practices such as victim-blaming and stigmatisation of victims. Protection was not provided to victims of sexual violence in the courts of Gambia, and crimes against women human rights defenders were becoming more common.
Women human rights defenders were subject to serious online threats and intimidation due to their commitment to women’s rights. However, the State had taken no steps to investigate these, or prosecute those responsible. While the criminalisation of female genital mutilation was a great step by the State, this had been rendered ineffective by the lack of implementation. A major limitation of the law was that it did not criminalise across borders, allowing female genital mutilation to be practiced on Gambian women outside the State’s jurisdiction, with no consequences. There was no definition of rape in line with international standards. Failure of a woman to produce evidence of her rape in court led to the conclusion that she was not raped. This contributed to the climate of impunity for sexual violence against women, as perpetrators knew they would not be held accountable.
On Switzerland, NGO-Coordination Post Beijing Switzerland said the Convention was not fully implemented in Switzerland yet. Prevailing stereotypes were one of the fundamental problems for women in the workplace, with most women working part time, or in the low wage sector, underrepresented in top management positions, and affected by unequal pay. The loss of paid work in combination with wage inequality led to a total financial loss of about CHF 100 billion per year for all women in Switzerland and to far smaller pensions. Switzerland needed to acknowledge women’s care work; introduce parental leave in addition to maternity leave; and eliminate the gender wage gap and punish companies which did not abide by this. Gender equality in the media was still lacking, with no mention of this appearing in the Electronic Media Act. It was recommended that Switzerland develop specific means to eliminate discriminatory stereotypes against women, and prohibit sexist advertising.
InterAction said in Switzerland, intersex children were not explicitly protected, and legal security did not exist. Therefore, it was recommended that Switzerland explicitly prohibit in the Criminal Code any practice that modified children’s sex characteristics, unless the intervention was lifesaving or of crucial importance for the child’s health.
End Demand said Switzerland’s prostitution policy fostered the normalisation of prostitution, treating prostitution as ‘work’, which was incompatible with the State’s obligation to discourage the demand that fostered exploitation and led to trafficking. Switzerland consistently downplayed the strong existing link between trafficking and the exploitation of the prostitution of women. Based on recent Swiss statistics, there was a less than a 0.4 per cent chance for a victim of human trafficking for sexual exploitation to be discovered. End Demand recommended that Switzerland implement article six of the Convention and general rule 38; address the fundamental root cause for the exploitation of women in prostitution; and adopt and effectively implement the Equality Model.
Feminist for a People’s Vaccine Campaign said Switzerland must uphold its obligations under the Convention to protect women’s right to health by adopting a global public good approach to COVID-19 tools. Switzerland blocked proposals at the World Trade Organization for equitable access to medicines and hoarded more vaccines than needed, contributing to developing countries' shortages. Just a month ago, Switzerland threw away more than 10 million expired vaccine doses and procured 3.5 million Omicron-specific vaccines, while only 19.4 per cent of people in low-income countries completed the initial protocol. The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights’ decision needed to be extended to diagnostics and therapeutics, and Switzerland should put in place an accountable framework for ensuring that Swiss companies respected human rights in their activities at home and abroad.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked Gambia about the most important urgent issue that the Committee should deal with?
Another Committee Expert asked Switzerland if Swiss civil society had an impact on stereotypes in the media?
One Committee Expert asked Gambia about female genital mutilation; were there cases where this practice fell outside the scope of the law? What was the impact of transitional justice on the settlement of some situations which were contrary to the Constitution and customary and traditional law?
A Committee Expert asked Honduras about the high incidence of the Human Papillomavirus, which were alarming. Were there efforts to build awareness among women to protect themselves?
One Committee Expert asked Gambia for more details about the shift that the two female judges had brought to the Sharia Court?
Another Committee Expert thanked Ukraine for its efforts during the time of conflict, asking if there were any mechanisms which had been introduced to advance the concept of equal pay, helping to reduce the gender pay gap?
A Committee Expert asked Ukraine about the nature of the shadow employment and shadow wages, so the Committee could make better recommendations?
Statements from National Human Rights Institutions
VOLODYMYR DZHYDZHORA, Head of the International Cooperation and European Integration Department of the Office of the Commissioner, Office of the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, said much had been achieved in recent years, including the reduction of the gender pay gap; the establishment of mandatory gender quotas for national and regional elections; women’s access to formerly “male” specialties; and women being granted the right to perform military service on an equal footing with men. However, despite important positive changes, gender inequality still existed in many areas. Gender disparities in wages persisted, with women’s salaries almost 20 per cent lower than men’s salaries. National legislation still did not contain an effective mechanism for protecting male and female employees in the workplace from sexual harassment. Women were still underrepresented at the decision-making level, and were less involved than men in the management and resolution of the international armed conflict in Ukraine. The persistence of stereotypes about women and men in society and the family continued to be a challenge.
The armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine had exacerbated existing challenges and created new challenges for the realisation of the rights of different groups of women and men. Cases of conflict-related sexual violence were reported from the temporarily occupied and de-occupied territories of Ukraine. Sexual violence was carried out against the civilian population of Ukraine by the military personnel of the Russian Federation and this required proper assessment and prosecution of the perpetrators.
BLANCA IZAGUIERRE, Defensora del Pueblo, Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, said in Honduras, between 2021 and the first half of 2022, 5,138 complaints had been filed by women, relating to the right to life and personal integrity, and access to justice and due process of law. Although the State had created a unit to investigate femicides, this had not been strengthened with technical and financial resources. In January 2021, the National Congress amended article 67 of the Constitution incorporating an absolute ban on abortion. More than eight months after the inauguration of the new administration, the emergency contraceptive pill continued to be banned. Since 2019, the Defensora del Pueblo had taken steps to expand the allocation of resources to implement actions aimed at eradicating the gap of discrimination and inequality between men and women; however, to date there had been no satisfactory response.
The Defensora del Pueblo suggested that the Committee recommend to the State that sufficient financial resources be provided to all State institutions for the follow-up of investigations of femicides. The Committee should also urge Honduras to approve the Comprehensive Law against Violence against Women and the Law on Shelters for Women Survivors of Violence and their Children. A prompt response to the appeal on abortion should be demanded and the prohibition of the use and sale of the emergency contraceptive pill should be eliminated. The Defensora del Pueblo must also have an appropriate level of funding that guaranteed its independence and ability to freely determine its priorities and activities, and fulfil its mandate progressively.
CHRISTIAN BRUCHEZ, Swiss Federal Commission for Women’s Issues, said there were three specific issues affecting Switzerland, the first of which was providing sufficient financial resources for a national human rights institution. To date, Switzerland had no national human rights institution which complied with the Paris Principles, yet scarce financial resources were earmarked for this. The Commission demanded that the resources for the intended national human rights institution be increased significantly, and that it addressed the issue of gender equality as a priority. The second issue was that the State report lacked information on the gender-specific impacts of on-going digitalisation, which was an issue, as digital opportunities needed to be seized to reduce inequalities. The Commission recommended using digitalisation to promote a balance between a career and family life, and that the proportion of women in digital infrastructure professions be increased to 50 per cent by 2030.
Finally, although Switzerland generally coped well with the COVID-19, lessons remained to be learned from a gender perspective. It was recommended that crisis measures be designed in a gender-equitable way, involving childcare experts from the beginning; that publicly funded childcare facilities be expanded and kept running during the crisis; and that gender-specific data be collected and analysed systematically.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked for information on women and girls who had been fleeing Ukraine, but were not receiving assistance because their passports had been considered void, as they had been given Russian passports against their will?
One Committee Expert asked about children separated from their families as a result of the conflict in Ukraine; how would these children be protected from all forms of exploitation?
Another Committee Expert asked about the taxation regulation within Switzerland; were there any remarks about the gender-specific problems for taxation in Switzerland? Could cantonal differences be eliminated?
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