17 January 2005
Womens Anti-Discrimination Committee Takes Up Reports of Paraguay
Domestic Violence, Sexual Exploitation, Human Trafficking Discussed
NEW YORK, 14 January (UN Headquarters) -- Domestic violence, sexual exploitation, womens participation in public life, trafficking in women and children, as well as persistent negative stereotypes were among the issues addressed by the Committee monitoring implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women as it considered Paraguays compliance with that instrument in two meetings today.
Paraguay ratified the Convention in 1987 and the Optional Protocol to the instrument in 2001.
The country delegation before the Committee said that, having emerged from a long period of dictatorship in 1989, Paraguay had a new Government, which stressed the importance of mainstreaming womens issues into all areas of public life. However, the document submitted to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women referred to a variety of factors that had weakened efforts to advance gender equality in Paraguay, including infighting within political parties, all-too-brief intervals between elections, lack of financing, patriarchal stereotypes rooted in centuries of domination and womens lack of power. Nevertheless, efforts to consolidate democracy in the present difficult social and economic circumstances had involved many women in the struggle for justice and human rights, even though they were visibly absent from senior political decision-making posts.
Among the positive developments, the Committees 23 experts noted the Governments efforts to introduce quotas for the participation of women in political life. Paraguays delegation informed the Committee that a quota setting aside 20 per cent of electoral lists for women had been put in place to overcome the traditional marginalization of women. However, related provisions did not specify what positions they were to be given. As a result, while they had been added to the electoral lists, women were routinely placed in the bottom positions. Quotas of 30 to 50 per cent had been proposed following a public hearing last August to consider a bill concerning the Electoral Code.
Referring to that proposal, one of Committee experts pointed out that the goal of raising the quota to 50 per cent seemed excessively ambitious, given that the lower percentage had not yet been met. The Government could consider giving incentives, including tax breaks, to the political parties. Another expert suggested raising the question of temporary special measures in discussions with political parties.
While commending the Governments efforts to promote equality, including constitutional guarantees and national plans for the advancement of women, one expert said that the measure of a States compliance with its obligations rested not with indicators of intent, but with indicators of results or de facto equality. The concrete obligation to show results had not been met, and Paraguay did not seem to have a legal definition of discrimination that was based on the Convention.
Many experts stressed the need for strict and clear laws regarding domestic violence and trafficking in women. Welcoming Paraguays plans to improve legislation on domestic violence, one expert said that, while punishment was important, measures to correct violent behaviour and protect victims were also needed. Paraguay may have a 911 phone system, but did it have shelters and psychological support programmes? The need for training of police, judges, prosecutors, medical personnel and media was also stressed.
Speakers pointed out that Paraguay had begun to tackle domestic violence and trafficking in people through the introduction of laws to penalize those offences. However, experts expressed doubt that penalties for trafficking, domestic violence and incest, among other offences, were serious enough. One expert said that violence could not and should not be tolerated in society. How many times does a woman need to be beaten before a perpetrator is brought to justice? she asked.
Country representatives said that Paraguay had ratified the Convention on Trafficking of People and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women. The Womens Bureau and organizations of women legal professionals intended to assess the application of the Violence Act and the Penal Code and to submit amendments to increase protection from domestic violence. However, some legislators still believed that marriage and events within the family were private. A project scheduled to start this year would provide training to legal practitioners, educators and others involved in that issue.
Experts also expressed serious concern about the prevalence of social and cultural patterns of behaviour that discriminated against women, stressing that they represented obstacles to the advancement of genuine equality. Other concerns raised related to high maternal mortality rates and criminal penalties for abortion under national law. Many women procured clandestine abortions under unsanitary conditions. Fearing reprisals from the authorities, they were reluctant to turn to the public health services in the event of complications. While womens mortality as a result of unsafe abortions was a very serious problem, the Governments inaction in that respect was even more serious.
The Committee will hold its next formal meeting at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 18 January, when it is expected to take up Croatias reports.
Introduction of Reports
MARIA JOSE ARGANA MATEU, Minister of Paraguays Womens Secretariat, presented her countrys combined third and fourth periodic reports (document CEDAW/C/PAR/3-4) and fifth report (document CEDAW/C/PAR/5). Other members of the delegation were National Delegate Olga Beatriz Ferreira de Lopez; Judge Namia Ferreira de Guanes; Zulma Sosa de Servin of the Census Bureau; Benefrida Espinoza, Claudia Garcia and Adriana Arza de Arriola of the Womens Secretariat; and Carlos Jose Ruckelshaussen Villarejo and Lorena Patiño from Paraguays Permanent Mission to the United Nations.
Paraguay ratified the Convention in 1987 and its Optional Protocol in 2001.
The documents before the Committee refer to a variety of factors that have weakened efforts to advance womens equality in the country as partisan political interests have gained ascendancy over the interests of gender issues. Among those reasons, the Government lists infighting within political parties, very brief intervals between elections, lack of financing, the high cost of political campaigns at election time, the fact that non-governmental organizations have not taken the lead as much as before, and womens lack of power. The effort to consolidate democracy in the present difficult social and economic circumstances has meant that women have become active leaders in the struggle for justice, equity and the defence of human rights in all their aspects, even though they are increasingly and visibly absent from senior political decision-making posts.
According to the reports, non-governmental organizations play a first and foremost role in the advancement of women as institutional channels for activist womens groups. Difficulties include achieving the necessary empowerment of women and gaining recognition for womens non-governmental organizations as valid spokespersons on gender issues, particularly in reference to social policy in gender matters. Womens involvement in political life has been waning owing to the Paraguays critical social, political and economic situation. Women hold only 8 per cent of public posts and 9.7 per cent of professional and technical posts, even though they are considered theoretically less susceptible to corruption in managing public assets.
With specific reference to womens equality and the challenges facing the new Government, the report states that since the 1990s, womens organizations have made great strides in their struggle to win equality and eliminate gender discrimination. As a result, the country now has in place a legal framework which guarantees the protection of womens human rights. Progress in the legislative arena, however, has not been accompanied by cultural advances. Discrimination against women persists in many areas. Issues requiring priority attention include a high maternal mortality rate, violence against women, low levels of political participation and unemployment.
Among the forms of discrimination that still exist today, the report refers to the fact that the right to maternity leave, which is established under the Labour Code, does not extend to women holding elected office. Another issue of concern relates to criminal penalties for abortion under national law. As a result, many women (especially those who cannot afford high-quality treatment) obtain clandestine abortions under unsanitary conditions. They are very reluctant to turn to the public health services to seek treatment for complications because they run the risk of being reported to the authorities. Women who work as domestic employees, private-sector teachers or self-employed workers are not entitled to insurance benefits for their partners under the Labour Code. They also do not receive the full benefits of allowances and pensions from the Social Provident Administration (IPS). There are no mechanisms in place to enable housewives to receive social-security pension benefits except through their husbands.
Referring to difficulties in overcoming patriarchal stereotypes rooted in centuries of domination, the country reports as a ground-breaking event an April 2004 public oral proceeding against a member of the armed forces, who was charged with torturing and killing his seven-year-old stepdaughter. Similarly, proceedings are to be held in which a father is charged with systematically raping his minor daughters. The womens movement has undertaken a number of legal initiatives to eliminate sexual discrimination. A major achievement in this area was the 2000 law on domestic violence, which made violence against women a crime. It includes sexual harassment provisions and penalties for trafficking in persons. Womens organizations have criticized some aspects of the law, however, because although it establishes penalties for physical violence, it does not cover other forms of violence.
The report states that in March 2004, under the slogan Putting an end to government violence against poor, organized women the Womens Secretariat of the National Campesino Federation (FNC) published a statement denouncing specific cases of mistreatment, torture and extreme violence by law-enforcement agencies against campesinos, and particularly against women in the departments of Caaguazú, San Pedro and Caazapá, among others. Another injustice suffered by women manifests itself in that fact that they do not have enough land or do not hold title to their land, as titles are usually held in the name of the man in the household. This situation is expected to change with the implementation of the new Agrarian Act (2002), which is expected to permit the transfer of titles to women.
Introducing the reports, Ms. ARGANA MATEU noted that the instrument had come into force under a dictatorial Government. The current Government had put in place mechanisms to introduce equal opportunities for women, improve education, fight corruption and combat discrimination. The legal reform was under way and media campaigns had been launched to inform women about their rights, overcome negative stereotypes and broadcast womens voices throughout the country. Six women had been appointed to high ministerial positions and, for the first time in the countrys history, a woman had become a member of the Supreme Court.
Efforts were being made to introduce quotas for womens participation in political life, she said. A public hearing had been held last August to consider a bill concerning the Electoral Code with a view to the advancement of women to elected posts. Among the options discussed in the hearing were proposals for 50 and 30 per cent quotas for women. The public had been informed about the proposals through the press and in television programmes promoting womens participation. Article 48 of the countrys Constitution referred to facilitating the participation of women in all spheres of national life, and article 117 provided that womens access to public posts should be promoted.
Paraguays current President had established a programme covering the period from 2003 to 2007, she said. It included measures to strengthen public policy in regard to gender, through the Womens Bureau and other government agencies, working in concert with civil society. The Second National Plan for Equal Opportunities for Men and Women was intended as a framework for gender policy, and had been given legal status. Also implemented was a national plan to combat poverty. With support from International Labour Organization (ILO), a National Tripartite Commission was carrying out a set of studies to allow for a deeper understanding of the challenges involved in surmounting poverty, generating decent work and promoting gender equality.
Efforts were being made to reduce education gaps between men and women, she said. The Ministry of Education and Culture was incorporating a gender perspective into school curricula. One of the challenges in the education sphere was the eradication of sexual harassment and abuse. In 2003, a reproductive-health programme and a safe-pregnancy initiative had been initiated. The increased use of contraceptives had led to a significant reduction in fertility rates.
We have come here because of the importance we attach to the implementation of the Convention, she said in conclusion. The Government of Paraguay was dedicated to finding new solutions to ensure the countrys further development and to overcome discrimination against women.
Experts Questions and Comments
NAELA GABR, expert from Egypt, noting that an international consultative entity had been consulted in preparing the report, urged the delegation to rely on national machinery in preparing its next report. Paraguays accession to the Optional Protocol brought with it a great responsibility. What measures had the Government considered to ensure that women were able to enjoy their rights under the Convention?
ROSARIO MANALO, Committee Chairperson and expert from the Philippines, noted that equality and equity were not the same thing. The Convention incorporated only the idea of equality. Had the Convention been invoked before Paraguays courts? The law reform process did not seem completely adequate; the law on violence against women seemed rather ambiguous. Intentions were not enough and firm target dates were needed in order to meet the countrys goals. What mechanisms existed for removing obstacles to the effective implementation of the domestic violence law? Had the provisions of the Convention been explained to Paraguayan women, particularly rural women?
SILVIA PIMENTAL, expert from Brazil, said that distinguishing between government and religion was important, not only for Paraguay, but also for Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole. The beginning of the new millennium would provide an opportunity either to become a truly modern society or to retreat. Achieving progress in both legal and political terms required that women be placed at the centre of the debate. Paraguays Constitution, in force since 1992, separated between Church and State. That should protect women from being deprived of their rights due to religious beliefs or practices.
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, asked about the Conventions status within Paraguays legal order. Since international treaties formed part of its domestic legal order, was it correct to say that the Convention had the status of ordinary law and could be superseded by a later law, or did the Convention prevail over any conflicting legislation? What measures had been taken to publish the Optional Protocol?
HUGUETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, expert from Benin, encouraged the Government to review the content of the domestic violence law. Under that law, the punishment -- a fine -- seemed weak. Would an amendment to that law be introduced? One act of violence could be fatal.
MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, said Paraguay had made many commendable efforts to bring about equality, including constitutional guarantees for equality and other national plans. However, the measure of a State having fulfilled its obligations did not rest with indicators of intent, but with indicators of results or de facto equality. The concrete obligation to show results had not been met and Paraguay did not seem to have a legal definition of discrimination based on the Convention. Regarding the methodology for applying the Convention, was there a legal characterization for the basis of discrimination? Also, what was the relationship between the national plan for equal opportunities and the national strategy for poverty reduction? She also asked for examples of case law in which the Convention had been invoked.
TIZIANA MAIOLO, expert from Italy, also raised the issue of domestic violence, stressing the need for strict and clear laws in that regard. Paying a fine was nothing or very little in the face of violence. There was a need to change the Penal Code.
Responding to the first round of questions, the Minister said that, in drafting its reports, Paraguay had contracted a national consultant, who had carried out surveys to collect information, drawing on the focal bodies within various ministries involved in the national plan for equal opportunities. The data had been further developed in accordance with the Convention. The reports were then adopted by the Womens Bureau and officially passed on to the Committee by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Turning to the terminology used in the reports, she said that equity meant that men and women must receive the same treatment under all circumstances. The gender perspective was taken into account in developing the countrys national policies in various fields. Following a hearing on election quotas for women last August, consultations continued on the draft bill in that regard and various womens organizations and political parties were expressing their views on the matter.
Regarding legislative reform, Ms. GARCIA said that in cases of domestic violence, women had recourse to the Violence Act and the Penal Code. The Government was aware of the weakness of the law and was continuing work to further develop and strengthen legislation in that regard. The introduction of a civil appeals procedure under the Domestic Violence Act in 2000 was envisioned as a supplement to the provisions of the Penal Code. The Violence Act provided for emergency protection measures, established that proceedings and care for the victims must be free of charge and gave the courts the power to receive complaints and apply measures to preserve the safety of victims.
Having adopted the Optional Protocol, the Government had begun disseminating information regarding that instrument, she continued. Special training courses on the gender perspective in case law had been initiated. Regarding the legal hierarchy, she said the Constitution was at the top of the pyramid, followed by international conventions ratified by Paraguay, laws passed by Congress and national legal provisions. Equality under the law was ensured under the Constitution. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women had been ratified and, therefore, formed part of the national legislation. It could be invoked before the countrys courts.
Continuing on the same subject, another member of the delegation said that the application of international instruments presented certain difficulties. Gender issues were covered under the Convention, and efforts were under way to ensure the mainstreaming of the gender perspective into national programmes. However, there was a certain resistance in the judiciary to the proper application of international instruments.
She said that the adoption of the Violence Law had not been easy, but it had proved to be a major achievement. A rapid and effective response to be implemented by the justices for peace at the community level was envisioned under that law. Naturally, there were still many setbacks, but the law was one of the best-known legislative norms around the country. However, it did not cover economic, psychological and other forms of violence and now it was important to address that issue.
Ms. ESPINOZA added that this morning, members of the delegation had had an interview with one of Paraguays radio stations and the countrys most popular newspapers had published articles on the presentation of the reports to the Committee.
Experts Questions and Comments
MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, recalled that the Committee had recommended strengthening the administration of the Womens Secretariat. Regarding relations with civil society, what criteria were used for selecting the civil society organizations with which the Government had established relations? What role was civil society playing in drafting the report?
HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, said she was happy to hear that there were plans to improve legislation on domestic violence. However, while punishment was important, measures to correct the violent behaviour were also needed. Victim protection was also necessary. Paraguay may have a 911 phone system, but did it have shelters and psychological support programmes? She also stressed the need for training for police, judges, prosecutors, medical personnel and media, noting that how the police handled the issue was most important. The Government must work closely with womens organizations in that area.
REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said she needed to raise again the issue of equality and equity. Equality had a precise meaning and took into account the concrete situations of women. Equity was much more subjective, flexible and subject to interpretation. It was often linked to the concept of social justice. It could become a dangerous concept when used indiscriminately as it could be cleverly used by those who did not want real equality. In addition, it seemed that penalties for trafficking and incest, among other offences, not just domestic violence, were light. As they were very serious violations of basic rights, why such a light approach?
FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, said she had been puzzled after reading the written reports and had found it difficult to understand to what extent Paraguay was implementing the Convention. It seemed that the State had not grasped some of its articles. She asked for a description of the national machinery for gender equality. It was surprising that a foreign consultant had been hired to draft the report. Did that mean that no one in the Government was capable of doing so? Echoing other colleagues, she stressed the need to distinguish between equality and equity.
KRISZTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, said it was heartbreaking to think about the lives of the victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation. In the current day and age, the international community liked to call trafficking the modern form of slavery. It should also be called the modern form of colonization. It was about first-class and second-class nations. It was a matter of too many men from so-called first-class nations using and abusing children and women of second-class nations. It was about the eroticization of racism, poverty, marginalization and oppression. There would be no way to end the tragic practice without identifying what it was all about and without the political commitment of the nations and governments who provided the clients and criminal networks. Did the Government see a commitment on the side of rich countries to end the practice, and in what forms did that commitment manifest itself? Was the Government committed to demanding cooperation from the rich countries? Requesting such cooperation was not a matter of international aid, but a moral duty and an international legal obligation.
DUBRAVKA IMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked the delegation to consider submitting the report and the Committees concluding remarks to the national Parliament. She also sought clarification on the definition of discrimination and on the penalties and prosecutions for victims of trafficking. How did the Government plan to prevent the exploitation of the girl child in the future?
DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, noted that trafficking was of major concern to the Government, which it had taken a number of steps to deal with the problem through the enactment of laws. However, the project at the national level was limited to children and did not directly target women victims. What steps was the Government taking to extend the project to women victims? While the Government had taken some positive steps, implementation had been poor. How were the State agencies responsible for implementing the trafficking law equipped to deal with its implementation. Were they provided with adequate resources to carry out their duties? Since the media played a critical role in trafficking, had the draft law been adopted, and what had been the effect on sexist advertising?
Regarding administrative reinforcement of the Womens Bureau, the Minister said it had been established in 1992 and for 11 years had been headed by the same Minister. The new administration had only been in place for about two years and was making efforts to be as transparent and open as possible. Efforts were also being made to optimize the use of human resources, streamline management structures, fight corruption and introduce institutional modernization. Of utmost importance was the decision to build on progress achieved under the previous administration, focusing on the second national plan for the advancement of women. The Womens Bureau had established contacts with various other ministries and civil society. It was organizing seminars and workshops on womens issues and undertaking work in coordination with non-governmental organizations and womens organizations, including groups of indigenous and rural women.
Returning to the concepts of equity and equality, she said Paraguay was aware of the need to mainstream gender equality into various programmes. A campaign under the title Equality for all was being implemented, in particular through mass media participation.
Regarding trafficking in women and children, members of the delegation said there seemed to be a legal gap as far as children were concerned, for the Penal Code referred only to adults. Members of Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) were now cooperating in their efforts to address that problem. Work was also under way to analyse the situation and make contacts with recipient countries, including Spain. Specific reference to children should be introduced into the laws on trafficking in persons. It was also important to provide assistance to victims and to reintroduce them into society once they had been returned to the country.
Paraguay had ratified the Convention on Trafficking of People and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women. A proposal had been made under which the Womens Bureau and organizations of women legal professionals would assess the application of the Violence Act and the Penal Code and submit proposals to the Parliament for amendments to increase protection from domestic violence. However, some legislators still believed that marriage and events within the family were private matters. A project scheduled to start this year had been initiated to provide training to legal practitioners, educators and other persons involved in the work on that issue. Efforts were under way to increase awareness among adolescents.
Violence against women, equal opportunities and equal access to public resources were among the issues targeted by awareness campaigns. Broadcasts, including in indigenous languages, distributed relevant information and advocated the creation of equal conditions for men and women. Efforts were under way to alter the public image of women. Meetings and press conferences with opinion makers, community leaders and university students were among the activities undertaken.
Experts Questions and Comments
GLENDA P. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, said trafficking and the oversexualization of the region was a major issue. While plans were needed to integrate women back into society, it must be kept in mind that the very ones trafficked had been marginalized in the first place. She welcomed the fact that the Government had set the goal of achieving 50 per cent womens participation in political parties. What commitment had the parties made in terms of reforming structures to ensure the attainment of that goal? On the issue of indigenous women, one had to be careful when talking about minorities as racism was still an issue in the region.
MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said that, while substantive efforts had been made, the situation of women in the political arena had met with a great deal of resistance. While Paraguay had ratified the Convention, courage was needed to implement its provisions. Change required not only womens but also mens active participation. Other countries in the region, for example Costa Rica, had made great progress. Regarding political participation, a minimum of 30 per cent representation in Parliament was needed and the only way to do that was through the implementation of temporary special measures. If not, women would always be colonized by men.
FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, said the initiative to raise the quota for participation in political parties to 50 was ambitious, especially given the fact that the lower percentage had not yet been met. In that regard, the Government could consider giving incentives to the political parties, such as tax incentives. What was the Government doing to fulfil the present quota system and what was the status of the bill to raise the quota?
Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, also raised the issue of quotas in political life and described her countrys experience in that regard. Temporary special measures could be raised in discussions with the political parties.
Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, stressed the need for the State to take all appropriate measures to ensure equality. How had specific plans been implemented and what was the status of the national plan for equal opportunities? While quotas had been implemented, the results did not seem to be satisfactory. Quotas, moreover, did not ensure women holding a certain percentage of seats. How did the Government intend to regulate political parties in that regard? How did the national plan for equal opportunity address the need to pay attention to political participation by specific groups of women?
The Minister said women had traditionally been marginalized and excluded from public service, and that quotas setting aside at least 20 per cent of electoral lists for women had been established to address that situation. However, those electoral quotas did not specify what positions women were to be given in practice - that was to be determined by the political parties. As a result, women were routinely placed in the bottom positions and their participation in decision-making had not significantly increased. Reform proposals had been put forward to rectify the situation.
Ongoing work to increase womens political participation included a proposal to modify the Electoral Code, and in that connection, another member of the delegation clarified that the current level of womens participation stood at 23 per cent. While added to the electoral lists, women were at the bottom. That meant that proper representation could not be achieved. An ambitious proposal had been made to establish a 50 per cent quota for women, but realistically, a lower quota would probably be established. Civil society was taking an active part in the debate on that question. Paraguay was emerging from a long period of dictatorship and now it was important to initiate a process under which womens issues would be placed high on the national agenda.
Ms. SOSA DE SERVIN added that any policy to meet the needs of the most vulnerable population groups must be based on reliable information. For that reason, Paraguay had conducted studies on the national situation of groups that had been marginalized or neglected, such as indigenous peoples. Statistical information covering some 400 indigenous communities had been collected in tandem with their representatives. Given that the culture of those groups was based on the oral tradition, that was the first effort to take stock of their lives.
Ms. FERREIRA DE LOPEZ said that the situation of indigenous peoples was serious, for they encountered serious discrimination. In many cases, they were expelled from their land, and many women had been forced into prostitution. A newly-established Committee on Indigenous People consisted of lawyers, indigenous leaders and people with experience in the field. That body would address the problems of indigenous populations.
ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, expressed interest in educational reform and inter-cultural education. According to todays presentation, only about 5 per cent of the people lacked access to education, but in the countrys written responses to questions, the percentage of illiteracy seemed much higher. She asked for clarifications in that regard.
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, expressed concern about dismissal from school of pregnant women and women with children and asked whether pregnant students were protected under the Labour Code. Were there legal provisions to protect them? There was a significant level of sexism in the educational materials and it was important to change attitudes among education professionals. He asked for additional information on programmes in that regard.
VICTORIA POPESCU, expert from Romania, said that in the past, serious concerns had been expressed by the Committee with regard to persistent discrimination in the area of education. While saluting Government efforts to reform the education system, she also noted the lack of information about the results of those efforts. The next report should focus more on the obstacles and achievements in that area. A very serious phenomenon was sexual harassment in schools, and she wanted to know what was being done to prevent it. Additional information should be provided on the number of complaints and measures taken in response to them. What was being done to prevent stigma from being placed on the victims? To a large extent, such problems were connected with the persistence of negative sexual stereotypes.
Ms. IMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked for additional information on several issues, including drop-out rates and the situation of teachers who were also single mothers.
Ms. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, said it was important that indigenous womens issues be integrated throughout Paraguays report.
SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, noted that the womens share of the labour force had risen considerably in recent years. As the report pointed out, that did not mean, however, that they were doing higher-level types of work. Poverty was widespread in Paraguay, especially among the rural population. It seemed that the Government had not yet addressed the root cause of the high poverty level among women, who worked mostly in the informal sector. While commending Paraguay for regularizing domestic employment, she wondered why discrimination in the form of pay gaps and longer working hours had not been eliminated.
Ms. AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, asked what measures had been taken with regard to the equal right to land distribution and access to credit.
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, noted that Paraguay had two official languages, Spanish and Guarani. As Guarani was the mother tongue of most of the rural population and the poorer social classes, had those women been made aware of their rights under the Convention and had it been translated into that language?
Answering questions about bilingual education, the Minister said the values of indigenous cultures were being advanced. Education in both national and indigenous languages had great social value. As for women and girls who were pregnant, there was a group within the Ministry of Education and Culture, as well as an office for complaints at the level of zone supervisors. When a pregnant girl was expelled or stigmatized either by the school or the family, it was important to protect her. The rights of teachers who were also single mothers were protected under the law. They received paid maternal leave and breastfeeding breaks.
Further expanding on that subject, Ms. FERREIRA DE GUANES provided literacy figures, saying that a 5 per cent illiteracy figure had been provided for the whole population. As for indigenous peoples, the level of illiteracy was up to 60 per cent. There was a tremendous disparity in that regard. A programme for indigenous education had been launched, with five national supervisors monitoring its implementation. The tasks were not easy because indigenous populations were not necessarily open to formal education and exhibited cultural resistance to the Governments efforts. It was important to train indigenous teachers and it was to be hoped that a newly launched programme in that regard would produce results in the near future.
Ms. FERREIRA DE LOPEZ said that an indigenous assembly that had taken place in Paraguay had emphasized the right to education and the right to land. Indigenous women who had finished their secondary education would be provided with scholarships for study abroad. Culturally, there was even more resistance to gender equality among the indigenous population than within other groups of people.
The structure of land tenure had recently been expanded in the country, country representatives further pointed out. The goal was to give land titles to 8,000 families, allowing them to own their land legally. Some 1,500 families would be provided with training to allow them to grow roots on the land and earn their living from farming. Women were being informed about their rights.
Regarding sexist attitudes prevailing in the country, delegates explained that there had been progress in terms of educational materials, educational opportunities and training. Patterns of discrimination were being examined by the Womens Secretariat and the Ministry of Education. Specific lines of action were being identified. Sexual harassment was penalized under national legislation. In schools, administrative measures were taken against any teachers involved and such cases were then passed on to the courts to be prosecuted under the provisions of the law on sexual abuses.
Regarding child labour, a delegate said that girls were allowed to work as domestic workers, but there had been many complaints about the practice of employing very young children. Those complaints were being investigated. Given the economic crisis in the country and the state of the economy, young maids were considered a necessary evil by many families. It was important to combat that attitude.
Experts Questions and Comments
Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, said that under the Childrens Rights Convention, governments were obliged -- without having received claims from individuals -- to take action against discrimination. Paraguays report indicated that discriminatory provisions remained in the Labour Code to the detriment of female workers. Were there grass roots for changing the law? On the proposed land reform bill, how did the Government plan to ensure that women would be included as land owners? She also questioned the overuse of fertilizers and asked whether the Government had considered encouraging individuals to use organic agriculture techniques.
Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, commended the Government for admitting that it had not done enough to ensure womens health rights. While admitting that the rate of HIV infection was relatively low, the locus of the epidemic was gradually shifting to women and the poor. Unfortunately, while a national programme existed, there appeared to be a lack of funding for antiretroviral drugs. People living with HIV faced discrimination. HIV/AIDS was assuming a feminine face and could not be controlled without addressing the epidemics gender dimension. She called on the Government to take urgent action to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS by, among other things, addressing poverty and the lack of access to drugs.
Ms. KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, expressed concern at the high maternal mortality rate. The differential treatment given to women in terms of their access to family health planning services and illegal abortions was a major cause of high maternal mortality rates. According to the Convention, women were to be provided with full access to family planning services. Paraguay had three times more women in prison than the world average. Was that because of illegal abortions? Women seemed to be forced to seek abortion in the absence of normal family planning information. She requested the Government to reconsider the criminalization of abortion. That legislation should be amended. At the same time, the Government should strengthen sex education and family planning services.
Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, said the fact that all three branches of Government were represented today was meaningful. The report indicated that Paraguay was working on the issue of abortion. Complying with the Convention meant the Government must address maternal mortality and clandestine abortions. Did the Government have concrete strategies to comply with the Committees previous recommendations?
Ms. MANALO, expert from the Philippines, asked what measures had been taken regarding education in Guarani at the higher levels. Illiteracy rates among the indigenous people were the highest, at about 63 per cent. Public education at the primary level was not free and a large number of students dropped out due to economic reasons. How could the Government reconcile the discrepancy between primary education being compulsory but not necessarily free? She also noted that the Convention had not been published in Guarani. On abortion, the Governments approach was based on the principle of prevention and its plan in that regard was not effective.
Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, also addressed the high maternal mortality rate, noting that, while the fact that 51 per cent of the population was male and 49 per cent female was extraordinary, it was not surprising, given the high maternal mortality rate. The 10 per cent drop in the number of people using family planning meant that the current system was not working. Was the problem being considered urgently? The extremely high mortality rate due to unsafe abortions was a serious problem. Even more serious was the Governments inaction in the face of that serious problem. The Government should hold national consultations with women from all social strata to find solutions.
Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said the Governments efforts in the area of access to health care were commendable, as the Ministry of Health was aware of the grave situation prevailing in the country. To what extent had budgetary allocations to that ministry been improved to ensure that the second reproductive-health-care plan was better implemented? On abortion, did the Government envisage repealing the provisions that sanctioned women who performed abortion? She also asked for information on health care services for older women.
ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, raised the issue of rural women, asking what policies had been taken since the last report to improve their condition, in particular, those heading households.
Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, asked how many times women must be beaten before the perpetrator was brought to justice. One act of violence should be enough. How long did it take for the complaint to go to trial? Were there protections or domestic exclusion orders against perpetrators during the interim period?
Ms. GNACADJA, expert from Benin, asked if women needed their husbands consent to go to the courts. She also suggested raising the marriage age from
16 to the age of consent.
Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, questioned a discriminatory provision whereby children were given their fathers surnames in cases of disagreement. What legal protection was accorded to women living in de facto unions? Did Paraguay have a family court system that was sensitive to the family?
The Minister noted that on the matter of giving women titles to land, the Womens Secretariat wanted to support the decentralization process and mainstream gender into all land issues. The Government was working with provincial and municipal governments to set up womens bureaus at all those levels and to promote genuine implementation of the agrarian law. On the issue of fertilizers, the Government realized that they could be detrimental and was taking action in that regard. As for HIV/AIDS, the Womens Secretariat was preparing a strategic plan for 2005-2009, in which gender would be a cross-cutting issue.
Turning to the high rate of maternal mortality, she said that a programme emphasizing prenatal care and safe birthing techniques had been introduced by the Ministry of Health. The problem of illegal abortions was tackled from a prevention perspective.
Regarding the legal definition of discrimination and equality, she said that the entire experience of the Womens Bureau had been reviewed. As for the two perspectives - equality and equity -- a decision had been taken to work on both tracks.
Ms. ESPINOZA referred to an unmet demand for family planning services, mentioned by an expert. According to the data from a recent survey, there had been a 38 per cent increase in the use of contraceptives. However, the results varied from area to area. There was a gap of about 33 per cent in rural areas, where women still had no access to birth control. The number of women saying that their family planning needs were not met also differed according to location, ranging from 5 per cent in the capital to 23 per cent in the north. There had been significant improvements in the area of prenatal care, which was provided free of charge, as well as care for children under the age of five. The number of institutional births had increased to over 70 per cent at the national level, but challenges remained in the rural areas.
Ms. GARCIA said that the Government was trying to tackle womens health issues in a complex manner, placing emphasis on long-term goals. Numerous seminars were planned to explore links among various issues, including health, culture, participation, access to economic resources and labour market. Initiatives had been taken in a dispersed manner before, but now they needed to be integrated into a single comprehensive plan.
Regarding access to land and credit, she said many institutions now preferred to provide credit to women, who usually repaid loans. That meant women received credit and titles to land and property. However, that often led to violence on the part of men.
A member of the delegation said that one of the achievements of the Convention had been the reform of Paraguays legal system, bringing civil legislation in line with the Convention. Now both or either parent could give their names to a child, for example. However, recently a backward step had been taken, with the introduction of a provision stipulating that, if there was a dispute, the father was to decide on the name.
The percentage of women in jail was very low, a country representative said. Only 500 women were currently in prison. She did not know of any cases of women serving time for having an abortion. There were children living with their mothers in jail. They went to school, had playgrounds and the babies were provided with required food products. Mothers were given an opportunity to sell products or crafts.
Ms. MANALO, expert from the Philippines, drew the delegations attention to article 5 of the Convention, which addressed the need to eliminate sexual stereotypes. The delegation had raised justifications for inequality on the basis of customary practices and macho attitudes prevailing in Paraguay. Such an approach needed to be reviewed.
Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, asked if there were plans to shift towards more nature-friendly methods of agriculture.
Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, said there was discrimination against women based on religions beliefs, for example, as far as pregnant school teachers were concerned. Was the Womens Bureau paying attention to the separation of Church and State?
Ms. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, focused on the education of indigenous people, saying it was not true that they were not interested in education. What they were not interested in was a colonial education imposed on them throughout the Americas. The Womens Bureau needed to change its approach to them.
Minister ARGANA MATEU said that work was under way to provide help to rural women. The Womens Bureau also dealt with such issues as reproductive health, the working conditions of domestic workers and toxic agricultural products. Indeed, the separation of Church and State was envisioned in the Constitution and the Bureau was paying much attention to that issue without being influenced by the recommendations of religious groups.
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