Civil Society Organizations Brief the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the Situation of Women in Finland, Armenia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Belgium
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 Finland, Armenia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Belgium, whose reports the Committee will review this week.
In relation to Finland, Marjo Rantala, Senior Officer, Finnish Non-discrimination Ombudsman/National Rapporteur, said despite a record-breaking number of measures addressing gender-based violence in Finland, the work was not done. Leena Leikas, Senior Expert, Finnish Human Rights Centre, called on Finland to pay more attention to the income levels in migration legislation. Non-governmental organizations speaking on Finland raised a number of issues, including sexual violence faced by women and girls with disabilities, hate speech, and legislation concerning sexual violence.
On Armenia, Kristinne Grigoryan, Human Rights Defender of Armenia, said domestic violence was the most worrying issue in the country; it was recommended that the legislation be improved and aimed at the prevention and protection of domestic violence victims. Non-governmental organizations speaking on Armenia raised several issues, including the lack of legislation for domestic violence victims, the stigma around victims of trafficking, and abortion.
The non-governmental organization speaking on behalf of Saint Kitts and Nevis raised issues, including the death penalty and gender-standards in prisons.
On Belgium, Jozefien Van Caeneghem, Legal Officer, Institut Fédéral pour la protection et la promotion des Droits Humains, said disadvantaged groups in Belgium deserved more attention. Non-governmental organizations discussing Belgium raised several issues, including incest, prostitution, and linguistic discrimination.
The Finnish Non-discrimination Ombudsman/National Rapporteur spoke on Finland, as did the Finnish Human Rights Centre. The following non-governmental organizations also spoke: Coalition of Finnish Women, Finnish League for Human Rights, Amnesty International Finnish Section, and Fem-R.
The Human Rights Defender of Armenia spoke on Armenia as did the following non-governmental organizations: Women's Resource Centre; and New Generation Humanitarian NGO and Eurasian Coalition on Health, Rights, Gender and Sexual Diversity.
Greater Caribbean for Life and Advocates for Human Rights spoke on behalf of Saint Kitts and Nevis.
Institut Fédéral pour la protection et la promotion des Droits Humains, and Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism and Discrimination spoke on behalf of Belgium, as well as the following non-governmental organizations: Reseau FACES; isala asbl; Association for the Promotion of Francophonie in Flanders (APFF) and Association for the Promotion of Human Rights and Minorities (ADHUM); Feminist for a People’s Vaccine; Migrant Women’s Group/Coalición Nacional de Mujeres del Ecuador; and National Women’s Coalition.
The Committee will hold a second meeting with civil society organizations on Monday, 17 October to be briefed on the situation of women in Ukraine, Honduras, Gambia and Switzerland, whose reports will be reviewed next week.
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, 11 October to review the eighth periodic report of Finland (CEDAW/C/FIN/8).
Opening Remarks by the Chair
GLADYS ACOSTA VARGAS, Committee Chairperson, said this was the first 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 first week of the session - Finland, Armenia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Belgium. A second remote meeting with non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions would take place on Monday, 17 October from 3:30 to 5 p.m., where representatives would be invited to provide country-specific information on the States parties whose reports would be considered during the second week of the session: Ukraine, Honduras, Gambia, and Switzerland.
Discussion with Non-governmental Organizations from Finland, Armenia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Belgium
On Finland, Coalition of Finnish Women said women and girls with disabilities were one of the most vulnerable groups in society. Over 20 per cent of girls with disabilities had reported cases of sexual violence. It was recommended that Finland create and implement an action plan to combat the harassment faced by girls during their schooling. The Government needed to restart the process to ensure transparency within the labour markets. Gendered hate speech remained one of the biggest obstacles to women’s participation in decision-making. The Coalition of Finnish Women recommended that gendered hate speech, doxing and online shaming be criminalised. It recommended that Finland take action to strengthen pregnancy legislation for part-time workers.
Finnish League for Human Rights said forced marriage was not criminalised in all its forms and could only be dissolved through divorce. The process of the specific criminalisation on female genital mutilation began in 2021, and it was vital that this resulted in a new law which protected girls from the practice. The Government was recommended to provide services for domestic violence in indigenous languages, including information in shelters.
Amnesty International Finnish Section said the prevalence of sexual violence against women in Finland was high, especially among women and girls with disabilities. Amnesty International Finnish Section recommended that Finland ensured that sexual offences committed through the abuse of one’s position of authority were classified as rape. The proposition for the new Trans Act was being assessed in the Social Affairs and Health Committee, and Amnesty International Finnish Section was concerned that legal gender recognition was proposed to be available for adults only. It was recommended that Finland enact a new law on gender recognition based on self-determination which protected the rights of the child. Finally, mediation endangered women’s access to justice in Finland, resulting in reoccurring violence. Amnesty International Finnish Section recommended that Finland reform legislation on mediation.
Fem-R said racialised women in Finland faced persistent discrimination in employment and education. According to studies, women in particular faced discrimination based on perceived ethnic background. Discrimination had a negative effect on racialised women’s earning power and their ability to support themselves despite their desire to work and their equal education levels, hindering their ability to participate in Finnish society. The situation was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic as racialised women were more likely to work in industries severely affected by layoffs. Discrimination also had harmful effects on mental health and well-being. It recommended that concrete measures be enacted to ensure racialised women’s access to mental health services, with particular attention to their needs.
Concerning Armenia, Women's Resource Centre said the draft law on ensuring legal equality had been circulating since 2017, however, the final version had not been published for public discussion and was not in the agenda of the Government or Parliament. Furthermore, the regulation of the prohibition of discrimination in the Labour Code did not create any protection mechanism which could be applied in case of employment discrimination. The Centre recommended that the Government adopt the law on ensuring legal equality with strong reparation mechanisms both for public and private actors, and create a protective mechanism which could be applied in cases of discrimination in employment. The new Criminal Code did not contain any article on domestic violence specifically, and sanctions were very mild which sent the message it was not a serious crime. It was recommended that Armenia ratify the Istanbul Convention and amend the domestic violence law to comply with intentional standards.
New Generation Humanitarian NGO and Eurasian Coalition on Health, Rights, Gender and Sexual Diversity said Armenia had still not adopted a law that would ban all forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There had been 106 cases of sexual orientation and gender identity-based discrimination and human rights violations in 2021. Trans people in Armenia could not acquire satisfactory healthcare services because of the danger to the secrecy of their sexual identity and health status. It was recommended that Armenia undertake active measures with haste, specifically, to adopt legislation that would ban all forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression within a reasonable timeframe.
Regarding Saint Kitts and Nevis, Greater Caribbean for Life and Advocates for Human Rights said although the State had refrained from using the death penalty since 2008, it retained the death penalty for murder. Women in Saint Kitts and Nevis were most likely to be sentenced to death for murdering a family member, often in the context of gender-based violence. The death penalty remained an option for murder, and women who were suffering from gender-based violence were more likely to be sentenced to death by hanging. Prisons for all genders were overcrowded in Saint Kitts and Nevis. Saint Kitts and Nevis was urged to abolish the death penalty and replace it with new laws in line with international human rights standards. It should be ensured that all prison authorities adopted universal gender standards, which ensured women’s safety in places of detention.
On Belgium, Reseau FACES said a huge number of cases of incest affected children in Belgium, which was not taken into account in schools. It was recommended that transparency processes be introduced at all different levels of public symposia. It was recommended that prevention and awareness raising about sexual violence be introduced, including incest, in training among all professionals and in families. It should be mandatory to have education programmes, using an intersectional approach to vulnerable groups. It was also recommended that information and training be conducted for all employees in the workplace. The recognition of harassment in an ex-couple and any constraint prescribed by legislation in this area should also be recognised. Domestic violence was still wide-spread and 70 per cent of complaints were dismissed, resulting in many deaths.
isala asbl said the report submitted covered prostitution, sexual exploitation and trafficking. There were high concerns about prostituted women and girls after Belgium adopted a new Penal Code prohibiting pimping except in cases provided by the law. In the future law, Belgium planned to define under what conditions someone could be procured for prostitution. This should be unconditionally sanctioned. Pimping was only prohibited when there was an abnormal profit; it was a vague concept which had not been defined and remained inapplicable defining a pimp. The new legislation would inevitably lead to an increase in prostitution and for the most vulnerable groups. The Belgian State needed to be held accountable to ensure basic human rights standards.
Association for the Promotion of Francophonie in Flanders (APFF) and Association for the Promotion of Human Rights and Minorities (ADHUM) said 21 years after signing the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, Belgium had still not ratified it, despite repeated recommendations. It was clear that Flanders did not want to hear about a French-speaking minority on its territory, nor about linguistic discrimination. In Flanders, the percentage of mothers addressing new born babies in French had increased by 50 per cent over the last 15 years, from 4.2 per cent in 2005 to 6.4 per cent in 2020. French was most widely used in Flemish Brabant, with almost a quarter of new born babies raised in French. In Flanders, apart from in municipalities with language facilities, the language used in childcare facilities was exclusively Dutch. Under these conditions, mothers who raised their children in French may not return to work full-time after maternity leave in order to preserve the language, culture and identity of their children. If true, this could amount to forced assimilation of French speakers and was contrary to the spirit of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which Belgium had still not ratified
Feminist for a People’s Vaccine said the pandemic was not over and intellectual property regimes were not the answer. Belgium needed to apply a global approach with an equitable access to protect women’s right to health. Vaccines and medicines should not be turned into commodities which could be marketed at the highest profit. Belgium needed to pledge not to use dispute settlement mechanisms, not to dissuade countries from using any flexibility under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, and to ensure that the European Commission did not introduce any Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights conditions in its negotiating agreements with developing countries.
Migrant Women’s Group/Coalición Nacional de Mujeres del Ecuador highlighted that the Committee’s recommendations were as important and timely as ever. In Belgium, all asylum seekers were systematically detained at the border, a practice which was considered problematic by the United Nations. The speaker said the Committee may want to ask the authorities how many vulnerable women at the border had been offered an alternative to detention. The Committee should also determine the training of officials at the border when it came to identifying vulnerable women seeking asylum. What were the specific guidelines for credibility assessments to be carried out for victims of gender-based violence, taking into account their specific needs? It was trusted that the Committee would actively address these issues with the Belgian authorities.
National Women’s Coalition said a report had been sent to the Committee. Those who were undocumented received the worst treatment and were invisible to the Belgian society. There were large numbers of women who did not have access to dignified employment, working for long periods of time for very little money. If one had no documents, one could not do anything. Migrant women were facing many challenges arriving in an unknown country and were not supported by a society, which claimed to be inclusive, but which was not.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked about economic discrimination in Saint Kitts and Nevis and in Belgium, in both access to the bank sector, and on the legislation side?
Addressing Belgium, a Committee Expert asked about the mechanisms which could be set up to ensure more efficient coordination and uniformity?
What was the situation of internally displaced persons, and were provisions made for birth registration? What was Belgium doing concerning their legal situation and documentation?
A Committee Expert asked Saint Kitts and Nevis about ongoing negotiations to amend the law on abortion? Was there a possibility to see the State party moving towards the four scenarios which the Committee recommended for legalisation? To Belgium, the Expert said it was great that civil marriage was a requirement across the board; however, the exception granted for lowering the age of marriage had never been measured. How many marriages were there below the age of 18?
Another Committee Expert asked Finland about concerns raised by the national human rights institute, asking about the need for disaggregated data and reach when it came to minority groups? Was there anything the Committee should be aware of when it came to the amendment of the Criminal Code regarding rape?
One Committee Expert addressed Belgium, asking if the impact of the current administration on women’s rights had been studied? What measures had the State party taken to publish the law on incest, to inform vulnerable populations? From 2014 to now, how many women in domestic work had benefitted from the free right to abortion in Belgium?
Statements from National Human Rights Institutions
KRISTINNE GRIGORYAN, Human Rights Defender of Armenia, said Armenia lacked clear legislation around anti-discrimination and it was recommended that comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation be adopted. On the issue of domestic violence, which was the most worrying issue in the country, it was recommended that the legislation be improved and aimed at the prevention and protection of domestic violence victims. It was recommended that criminal legislation be extended, in compliance with international standards, regarding violence against women, envisaging responsibility for all acts of gender-based violence against women, including stalking. Procedural guarantees should be ensured for the victims of violence. Access should be ensured to a sufficient number of shelters covering all areas of Armenia. The application of national legislation should be ensured to prevent the stereotyping of women. The role of women should be emphasised as equal members of society within mass media. It was strongly advised that labour legislation be introduced which outlined harassment in the workplace. It was strongly encouraged that the State ensured the physical accessibility of shelters for women with disabilities who had been subject to domestic violence. Training for social workers should be conducted on the rights of women with disabilities.
MARJO RANTALA, Senior Officer, Finnish Non-discrimination Ombudsman/National Rapporteur, said Finland was an underachiever when it came to violence against women. Despite a record-breaking number of measures addressing gender-based violence, the work was not done. The report submitted to Parliament outlined seven long-term targets to engender equality, one outlining Finland as a country free from gender-based violence. Finland lacked systematic, long-term and comparable statistics on gender-based violence. There was no information on partner violence and victims’ access to services, or legal aid. Finland did not even have a term in Finnish language for feminicide, although this constituted the second most common homicide type. Finnish society had been slow and reluctant to recognise gender-based violence which explained why Finland lacked resources for combatting this crime. Amending the Penal Code to refer specially to female genital mutilation seemed almost impossible. The Penal Code needed to be reviewed as a whole and gender needed to be considered as a factor. Sexual harassment was prevalent in Finland. The speaker wanted to alert the Committee to the cases of mediation in gender-based violence. There was a steady increase in violence following mediation, with the potential for the perpetrator to avoid punishment if the case was mediated.
LEENA LEIKAS, Senior Expert, Finnish Human Rights Centre, said a study had been conducted which showed a need for a more holistic approach to human rights structures in Finland. Balance should be sought between specific human rights mandates. The impact assessment of human rights needed to be carried out systematically. The Government’s report did not include reflections on measures taken and the effects they had on the human rights of individuals. Information was lacking on many important rights, and vulnerable groups were left out. The resources remained scarce, and work was often dependent on specific civil servants rather than the system as a whole. On climate change, a gender impact assessment had been prepared. The existing assessment did not address policy specific challenges. This was a visible trend in climate policies and climate law reforms which were ongoing. By 2030, at least 10 per cent of persons employed in the health and social sectors would need to be recruited from abroad; however, regulations for this recruitment were almost non-existent. Many foreign women with specialised knowledge in nursing ended up in lower paid jobs, resulting in them losing their expertise and receiving low-income salary levels which did not allow them to bring their families to Finland. More attention needed to be paid to the income levels in migration legislation. The draft of the trans act was discussed by parliament last week with disrespectful tones. No national treatment plan existed for intersex children.
JOZEFIEN VAN CAENEGHEM, Legal Officer, Institut Fédéral pour la protection et la promotion des Droits Humains, said the mandate of the National Human Rights Institution covered all human rights in Belgium. The Federal Government had expressed an intention to broaden the Institute’s mandate to deal with complaints. Disadvantaged groups in Belgium deserved more attention; the reform of the Belgium pension system did not go far enough to address structural inequalities. Environmental equality was a cause for concern; those living in poverty were hit harder by the effects of climate change. The Belgian Government should actively invest in improving the impact of climate change. Concerns were arising about increasing violence against female journalists, and national action plans should be developed to combat this. Period poverty was not uncommon in Belgium and should be tackled. The distribution of free menstruation products in institutions should be structurally anchored.
PATRICK CHARLIER, Director, Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism and Discrimination, spoke but the sound quality was not sufficient for interpretation.
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