News/UNITED NATIONS: UN - COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST

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Subject: News/UNITED NATIONS: UN - COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Wed Feb 02 2000 - 08:44:16 EST


26Jan00 UNITED NATIONS: UN - COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION
AGAINST WOMEN CONTINUES CONSIDERATION OF INDIA REPORT.
RDATE:24012000
Trafficking in women, women in situations of armed conflict, equal rights
to education, health issues, political representation and equal opportunity
in employment were discussed extensively this afternoon, as the Committee
on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women continued its
consideration of the initial report of India on implementation of the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
One expert member of the Committee stated that the report had limited
itself to the trafficking of Indian women - it was silent on the questions
of mail-order brides and the situation of women in armed conflict.
Furthermore, how could forced prostitution be abolished without the
abolishment of the practice of prostitution itself?
Another expert noted that access to legal redress was very difficult for
women in areas of armed conflict.
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1998 allowed entry without a warrant
and empowered security forces to use force, including lethal force. Muslim
minorities in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere were consistently victims of
such actions. What steps had been taken to ensure women were protected in
those situations? Were there any rehabilitation programmes for women and
child victims?
How many women students studying medicine were willing to work in the rural
areas where there was an urgent need for women doctors? another expert
asked.
Another expert reiterated her concern about the lack of concrete
statistical data on education for girls aged between five and eight years.
Resources would have to be reallocated to avoid disempowering the women of
the future, she said.
Another expert said health was not simply the absence of illness, but the
total well-being of a woman. The report left the impression of a gross
gender inequality in women's access to health care, both within the State
and between states. India's maternal and child mortality rates were
unacceptably high. It was surprising that the report had not mentioned
malaria as an important cause of premature birth.
On political representation, an expert asked what India was doing about
women outside the political process. Were so-called lower-caste women
represented in decision-making? If not, what was being done to bring them
in? At what level were women involved in the civil service and other
decision-making levels? The Committee will meet again at 10.30 a.m.
tomorrow to take up the initial, second and third periodic reports of the
Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this
afternoon to continue its consideration of the initial report of India on
implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination against Women. For background on the report, see Press
Release WOM/1161 of this morning.
Comments and Questions by Experts
Referring to the Convention's article 2 - elimination of discrimination
against women - an expert noted that the principle of non-State
intervention was impeding progress in guaranteeing women's rights in India.
The Indian Government only intervened when religious communities requested
intervention. The role played by the Supreme Court in the process and in
creating rights for women could be considered a factor in their
emancipation. Therefore, how far did the Court's authority extend? she
asked.
Were there women sitting on the Court? What was the reaction of the
communities to creating a uniform civil code? Another expert wondered if
the National Commission for Women also played the role of ombudsperson.
Could the Commission review laws from the 16 State-level commissions or
>from the National Commission itself? What kinds of cases did the Commission
examine and were the services provided free of cost? How did people know
they could use that kind of institution? Did the Commission provide legal
aid, since what was needed was advice, as well as assistance? An expert
said it was important to have enough information about existing national
mechanisms for the advancement of women, because they coordinated and
evaluated different actions taken to speed up the process of gender
equality. Another expert underlined the importance of endowing
institutional mechanisms with the necessary resources, as well as with
means to liaise with the Government. Was there a linkage between the
existence of the National Commission for Women and State commissions, on
the one hand, and any progress that might have been achieved, on the other?
She asked about the ninth five-year plan, which was supposed to contain a
women's component. Was it a voluntary or mandatory component? How had the
figure of 33 per cent agreement been settled upon, given that India has
about 50 per cent women. Problems in education were much greater for women
than for men.
More descriptions of the various governmental programmes for promoting the
rights of women were needed. It was not clear how those programmes actually
reached women.
Another expert, referring to the education programme, and in particular the
literacy campaign, asked if efforts had been made to reach disadvantaged
women, both in urban and rural areas, including the "untouchable" caste. It
seemed that the National Commission had great legislative power, an expert
noted. Had it developed gender-based methodologies and conducted research
on the feminization of poverty in the State? she asked. What had been done
in favour of both the "untouchable" women and those who had migrated to the
urban areas? Were special aides appointed from different states to
eliminate poverty, particularly of women?
An expert emphasized that Indian law stipulated that the Parliament should
review the Commission's recommendations, as well as evaluate the progress
of working programmes. Were those meetings really being held and what sort
of evaluation did they undertake? Earlier this morning, India's
representative had said that the policy to comply with the Convention had
not yet been approved - when would it be? How did it address the problems
of the poor sector? What was the proposed strategy for transferring
responsibility for the social infrastructure to women's groups in India?
An expert, applauding a law reserving 33 seats for women in village
councils and municipalities, said that she had heard more training was
needed. However, they were still being used for male interests. How much
were they getting from the Government and how was it working to train more
women? she asked. On article 5, social and cultural patterns, an expert
said that intangible results were not always perceptible in the short term.
National strategies were needed. Education should be used in programmes of
sensitization or there would be no real change in the issue of promoting
women's rights. An expert noted that the general public in India did not
accept the phenomenon of violence against women. Programmes to educate the
police in that regard had already been put in place; however, health
professionals must be the first to be educated about violence in all its
forms. Mere enacting of such legislation was not enough. Without a sharply
improved police and prison force, violence against arrested and imprisoned
women would continue. Appointing female officers, as reported, was not
enough.
Another expert said that the Government of India had been innovative in
dealing with gender stereotyping strategies. Considering the paramount
importance of the media, how many women were involved in policy-making in
that sphere? She hoped that the line of action being taken would reflect
India's leading international filmmaking role. Were there women on the film
censorship board? she concluded. Another expert said that that country's
caste system was one of the oldest systems of hierarchy. In spite of the
fact that the "untouchable" caste had been abolished since 1950 and since
more than 16 per cent of the population fell in that category, it must be
urgently removed. Statistics demonstrated that crimes against those persons
had increased by almost 25 per cent since 1991. Complete village
populations had been wiped out. What steps had been taken to prevent and
punish the perpetrators of those crimes, particularly against the women of
that community?
What percentage had benefited from affirmative action programmes? she
continued. She requested statistics on the literacy rate and average wage
of those women in comparison with others. She further requested
clarification of information from independent sources that persons of that
caste - women and children - were still being used as bonded labour.
On the issue of the dowry, she remarked that there were instances where the
situation led, not necessarily to immediate death, but to serious injuries
and resulting death. She knew of two specific cases in which the victims
had received no justice. What mechanisms were in place to enforce the dowry
prohibition act? What action had been taken by the Government to implement
the Convention in the State?
Another expert noted the report's reference to practices by fundamentalist
religious groups that posed a threat to the rights of women. How would the
Government oppose such practices? Did such groups have more or less
strength today?
According to another expert, the report had limited its presentation of
trafficking in women to trafficking in Indian women. While the report was
silent on mail-order brides, trafficking in women from developing to
developed countries and arrangements of marriage to foreign nationals were
known to exist.
She asked how the present law was tackling prostitution without abolishing
the practice of prostitution as such. Was "temple prostitution" affected?
If not, the Government should take steps to end it because that practice
caused violence against young women and girls. Did the Government have a
scientific database to discourage practices that violated women? Were there
any preventive measures to stop practices of sexual exploitation?
Another expert noted that armed conflict had been taking place in the
eastern and northern parts of India, including Jammu and Kashmir and
Punjab. Access to legal redress for women in such areas was difficult. The
Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1998 allowed entry without a warrant and
empowered security forces to use force, including lethal force.
Muslim minorities in Jammu and Kashmir were consistently experiencing
harassment, disappearance of relatives and sometimes death. That had
accelerated since the counter-insurgency measures had begun in 1990.
Had those laws ever been reviewed? she asked. What measures were there to
ensure women were protected in situations of armed conflict? Were there any
rehabilitation programmes for women and children victims? She recommended
that the Government of India involve women in any consideration of conflict
resolution, including peace negotiations, because they were always victims
in armed conflicts. There should be a gender perspective in armed forces
training, as well as measures to punish police and other security forces
guilty of violations.
Another expert asked, apart from the legal framework, what other mechanisms
were in place to monitor gang rape, forced prostitution or trafficking.
Were there human rights task forces? What protection did women have against
custodial violence? All countries engaged in armed conflict had to have
relevant laws.
Cross-border trafficking under the pretext of marriage had become
phenomenal. Consequently, establishing a registration system at the local
level had become important. India should withdraw its reservation to the
article and ensure both birth and marriage registration. Conducting a
door-to-door census would not solve the problem.
Regarding article 7 - equality in public and political life - an expert
asked what the relationship was between the Commission and elected women
parliamentarians. How were the parliamentarians lobbied? How did women from
the different political parties relate to each other on establishing
legislation? What was the relationship between the parliamentarians and the
non-governmental organizations, and what was the political role of those
women? she wondered. What was the proportion of women in the Cabinet?
another expert asked. It was a first step that 30 per cent of women had had
places reserved in politics. However, if only 25 per cent became elected,
did that mean the remainder would go to the men?
Another expert said it was well known that women's representation at the
rural and municipal levels would go a long way towards bringing women to
full political participation. But while one third of seats at those levels
were reserved for women, what political system was being used? Was it
proportional representation or a constituency-based system? It was a matter
for concern that representation in the National Parliament had been
dwindling over the years. She asked what was being won for women outside
the political process. In most countries, it was necessary to break through
the patriarchy, as well as through religious and cultural beliefs. Were
so-called lower-caste women represented in decision-making? If not, what
was being done to bring them in? At what level were women involved in the
civil service and other decision-making levels? Regarding the one-third
representation of women in village and municipal councils, another expert
asked how quotas for political representation were monitored.
The report had not provided sufficient information on article 8, equal
representation at the international level, an expert noted. Abolishing the
law that discriminated against women who married was a correct step. Also,
in the case of diplomatic representation, the report mentioned that 63
women were in the Indian Foreign Service, but the representative had
mentioned only 12 women. She requested some information on women's
participation in non-governmental organizations.
Referring to article 10 - equal access to education - another expert asked
whether Indian universities conferred degrees for women's studies courses.
What was the percentage of women students in the different universities?
How many pursued higher education?
Another expert asked what kind of job opportunities were available for
women university graduates. In 1995/1996, there had been 2 million Indian
women studying at university. How many of those had been studying medicine?
Were those women students who completed their training able, or even
willing, to work in the rural areas where there was an urgent need for
women doctors, or were their opportunities in the urban areas only? How did
women students view the caste system and how would they deal with it as
responsible and educated people? Another expert reiterated her concern
about the lack of concrete statistical data on education for girls aged
between five and eight years. She was not sure the budget had been
increased between 1995 and 2000, as promised at the Beijing Conference; in
fact, it seemed to have been reduced. Would the Indian Government implement
the commitment made at Beijing?
Noting that some resources would have to be reallocated to avoid
disempowering the women of the future, she requested statistics for
allocations by both the central Government and the various State
governments. Was the Government of India planning to build more toilets and
other infrastructure to improve girls' education? What were the causes of
absenteeism of teachers in the rural areas and what was being done about
it?
An expert was surprised that the Constitution did not recognize equal
opportunity to employment - article 11 - as the State's obligation. Taking
into account the current trend of globalization, how did the Government
explain the growing figures for unemployment of women? Pointing to relevant
portions of the report, she asked what steps were being taken to prevent
that serious discrimination against women.
She noted that the majority of female workers lived in rural areas, and 80
per cent were engaged in the unorganized sector. Were there protection laws
for women domestic workers and were they subject to social insurance
policies? Was there a stipulated number of hours to work per week?
An expert, noting the training programmes that had been instituted for
women, expressed concern that they did not have the positive impact they
should.
Furthermore, due to the global crisis, there had been adverse social
consequences for women in India, yet expenditure towards their cause had
declined drastically over the past 10 years. The majority of rural women
employed in agriculture were very likely losing their livelihood.
Liberalization had also affected a generation of employment. Total
employment in the organized sector had only risen to 2.6 per cent.
Therefore, many women were turning to the unorganized sector for work. What
measures were in place to regulate that sector?
She also questioned whether the Government had taken measures to ban the
phenomenon of child labour or, at least, to eliminate it from some sectors,
which could be a strong first step towards eliminating it totally. Another
expert asked whether a tripartite labour body had been set up as
recommended by the National Commission on Women. Were women included in it
and were there quotas for them? There was no mention in the report about
women scavenger workers who were not protected by law. What mechanisms did
the Indian Government have to enforce the Act prohibiting the employment of
scavenger workers? How did it enforce payment of the minimum wage to bonded
labourers? Was the Government negotiating to ensure protection of women
hired in export zones? On health issues (Article 12), another expert said
health was not the mere absence of illness, but the total well-being of a
woman. The report left the impression of a gross gender inequality in
women's access to health care, both within the State and between states. It
was encouraging that the Government intended to reform the sector through
an integrated, holistic approach. What were the requirements for a holistic
reform package?
She said India's maternal and child mortality rates, among the highest in
the world, were unacceptably high. The health of women and girls was at the
core of everything being discussed in the current session.
While mentioning the causes of maternal mortality, it was surprising that
the report had not mentioned malaria, which was an important cause of
premature birth. As in many developing countries, women in India were
engaged in the informal sector, she said.
The report had not paid attention to occupational and environmental health
nor to the mental health of women. Many women were still engaged in the
agricultural sector, where many pesticides and other chemicals sometimes
had fatal effects, especially when a woman was pregnant. Did India have a
policy on occupational and environmental health?
She said it was known that consumption of tobacco and other substances gave
rise to premature delivery, low birth rates and even maternal mortality.
"Pan" (betel nut) was chewed by many people, especially in the rural areas.
What impact did the chewing of pan have on women? What was being done to
involve men in family planning and in the choice of contraceptives?
Pointing to the reference to the national plan for the girl child in the
report, another expert wondered whether the plan dealt with early marriage
for girls as practised in the country.
With regards to compliance with article 14 - rights of rural women - one
expert said that the report did not follow its various aspects
chronologically.
Information had not been provided on participation of women in the
programmes mentioned. There was no information on housing and land policy,
including the changes to laws on access to land. In the next report, it
would be good to note the breakdown by activity of the 80 per cent of women
in India's rural areas. There must be other sectors, apart from
agriculture, in which they were involved.
Article 16, on family relations and marriage, was of particular importance
to women, an expert said. The Government of India had made a declaration
with regard to the article that had adversely affected women. Citing the
modification to the Hindu code on the aspect, she said the other minority
groups had not benefitted from those amendments. Consequently, how did
those women organize so that their voices could be heard? Many Islamic
countries had undergone a large-scale reform of laws governing marriage.
India could investigate those reforms and undertake similar action.
Registration should also become mandatory, as it was extremely important
for women to have access to their rights, including guarding the
dissolution of marriage and being able to have custody of their children.
India's Supreme Court had interpreted the right to life and the right to
equality synonymously, she continued. The Government's social policies were
geared towards equality, but the family law was contradictory - the male as
the head of the household and as the breadwinner. As long as the family law
ideology was being fostered, all of the social policies would be
undermined. She suggested that that ideology and India's declaration to
article 16 should be reviewed on the basis that it undermined the agenda
for gender equity. Did polygamy exist in India and, if so, which
communities practised it? another expert asked. Marriage registration was
necessary for monitoring the practice and preventing it from becoming
common.


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