On Discrimination against Women

United Nations, 18/01/2006 – General Assembly, WOM/1529: Department of Public Information, WOM/1529.

NOTE: FOLLOWING ARE SUMMARIES OF STATEMENTS MADE THIS MORNING TO THE COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN. A COMPLETE SUMMARY OF TODAY’S MEETINGS OF THE COMMITTEE.
Statements.

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had before it Togo’s combined initial, second, third, fourth and fifth reports. Having acceded to the Convention in 1983, the Government undertook to submit an initial report on the implementation of the Convention in 1984, and periodic reports every four years thereafter. Presenting its initial report more than 20 years after the ratification of the Convention, the country explains this “substantial delay” as “the result of factors beyond the control of competent authorities, who were well aware of their responsibilities in the matter”.

After the first democratic elections in 1993, the National Assembly has adopted a series of laws and policies, which include the declaration on a national policy on the advancement of women (currently in the process of adoption). The 1997 draft focuses on the need to incorporate a gender approach into development programmes and projects; guarantee girls and women access to education, training and information; provide technical and financial support for the income-generating activities; and ensure access to land, credit, technology and other means of production. Togo also reports having adopted a policy aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women. Practical action in this respect includes the implementation of the national Dakar and Beijing follow-up plan and the establishment of an inter-ministerial commission to harmonize domestic legislation with international standards.

The national machinery for the advancement of women includes the Union of Togolese Women, the General Directorate for the Advancement of Women and the national Beijing follow-up committee. Under the country’s 1992 Constitution, all its citizens are equal before the law, with no distinction on the basis of origin, race, sex, social condition or religion. Men and women are equal before the law, and no one may gain advantage or suffer disadvantage by reason of his or her family background, ethnic or regional origin, economic or social situation, or convictions. While Togolese law does not expressly define discrimination against women, it is clear that discrimination against women based on sex and marital status is prohibited, the Government states.

Under the Constitution, international conventions that have been duly ratified and promulgated are binding on Togolese courts and the authority of treaties and agreements takes precedence over domestic legislation. Every person living in Togo has the right to bring a matter before a Togolese court. The victim of a human-rights violation may apply to a court for redress on the basis of the Codes of Criminal and Civil Procedure. Among the non-judicial mechanisms for the promotion of human rights, the report also lists the National Human Rights Commission, the General Directorate for Human Rights, as well as various non-governmental organizations, leagues and associations concerned with human rights protection.

While mentioning some progressive statutes and regulations, including those on educational reform, equal pay for workers, the pension, and the Charter for political parties, the Government notes the lack of effective enforcement of laws “owing to the fact that most people are unaware of their provisions”. Some of the country’s legislation is also “unsatisfactory in certain respects”. The 1980 Personal and Family Code, for example, contains many provisions that are discriminatory toward women. Proposals for amendments to this Code are expected to be presented to the Government shortly.

The report notes that Togo’s citizens “have not yet internalized the country’s positive law; they continue to lead their daily lives in accordance with the precepts of customary law, largely unaffected by modern legal concepts”. Women continue to be underrepresented within the Government, the diplomatic service, the parliament, municipal councils, the army and the police. The Government and human rights non-governmental organizations are attempting, through education and awareness programmes, to induce the people to discard discriminatory customs. For example, they all joined forces to combat female genital mutilation, which was ultimately prohibited by Law 98-016 of 17 November 1998. Before the enactment of that law, one out of every eight Togolese women was excised. Since its enactment, there has been a perceptible change of mentality: increasingly, the practice of excision is regarded with disapproval.

Regarding traditional roles in society, the document says that men are “the incarnation of authority”. The husband is the head of the family, exercising his power “in the common interest of the couple and their children”. He represents the family to the outside world, makes decisions, enjoys certain forms of consideration and has a preferential entitlement to education. In rural areas, tasks requiring physical strength are regarded as men’s work exclusively. While women contribute extensively to farming activities, economic power in production units is held by men.

The woman, for her part, plays the roles of wife and mother and has responsibility for all domestic and household tasks. Outside the home, she constitutes “a substantial fraction of the farm’s labour power”. Also prevalent in the country are such practices as early marriage; ritual bondage involving the placement of girl children in covens of fetishists; certain rites of mourning for widows; and dietary prohibitions and taboos.

Women, especially in rural areas, do not inherit property in full ownership; they can inherit only its use, based on their marital status. A woman can be a beneficiary of a modern system of inheritance only provided her husband, during his lifetime, expressly renounces the customary form of inheritance. Polygamy is permitted by the law, but each wife is entitled to equal treatment. However, equality of treatment is difficult to enforce within the family.

Although all forms of domestic violence are prohibited under Togolese law, in practice, its victims tend to be afraid to lodge a complaint, or “are unwilling, out of modesty, to reveal details, especially personal details, of their private lives”. Few women are sufficiently courageous to seek help. Criminal investigation statistics indicate that, in 1999, there were 246 cases of deliberate domestic violence in Lomé. According to the Criminal Investigation Service, cases of domestic violence account for between 1 and 2 per cent of the total.

Presentation of Reports

The country’s reports were introduced by Togo’s Minister of Population, Social Affairs and the Promotion of Women, KANNY SOKPOH-DIALLO, who said that the delay in the presentation of the reports had been caused by certain institutional constraints. In the future, the country would strive to respect the deadlines for report submission.

Among the major changes since 2002, she mentioned the election of the new President of the Republic and formation of the Government of National Unity in April last year. Unfortunately, the elections had been marred by violence. The new Government had pledged to strengthen the rule of law and develop democracy as part of its core commitments. One of its top priorities was the promotion of women through strengthening and consolidating their rights and combating such negative phenomena as violence and genital mutilation.

The Government intended to pay particular attention to education. Efforts were also being made to improve the situation of rural women. Rehabilitation of markets, job security and improving conditions of work were among the main concerns that the Government was trying to respond to. To enhance the socio-economic and political status of women, the Head of State had undertaken to increase the responsibility of women in political, professional and social life of the country and promote the protection of women. Furthermore, the Government sought to promote gender equality as a fundamental right and as a political objective to build a new Togo. Sectoral recruitment for teaching and police positions was pursued without any gender distinctions, for example. For the first time in history, 68 women had been chosen to serve in the police forces.

The Government had also undertaken to reform the justice system, and a programme had been drafted towards that end. New laws had been promulgated for the protection of people with disabilities, including women. Cases of inequality that had been noted concerning the domicile, marriage, adoption, inheritance and so on had been reviewed. In 2005, Togo had ratified an Optional Protocol to the African Charter on Human Rights as it related to the rights of women. The possibility of ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention was now being discussed.

The Government had also prepared responses to the concerns expressed by the Committee. To evaluate the measures to implement the provisions of the Convention, a workshop had been organized last year by her Ministry, she said, in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). In particular, campaigns were now organized on an annual basis to raise awareness of the issues related to violence against women. A national strategic plan on violence against women was being prepared by a group of experts. A law on trafficking in children was also being drafted. The Family Code was being reviewed. Strategies for access to credit for women were being implemented.

In the areas of education and women’s health, the Government, by means of a strategic plan, was promoting girls’ access to school and reducing their education costs. Health coverage and training courses were being improved. Efforts were being made to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic and provide protection for people vulnerable to the disease, including women and sex workers.

More remained to be done, she added. The long procedure of enactment of laws, resistance to change and inadequate financing were among the difficulties faced by the Government. Those difficulties were not going to stop the Government, however.

Experts Questions and Comments

FRANÇOISE GASPARD, an expert from France, asked how the Government proposed to follow up on the Committee’s conclusions and to continue the dialogue in general. Would the Committee’s conclusions be discussed in parliament and disseminated around the country, in an effort to change laws that were discriminatory towards women? She also asked if the Government planned to meet with non-governmental organizations.

CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, an expert from the Netherlands, asked whether the Government envisaged the full involvement of civil society organizations, both of women’s and human rights organizations, in implementing the Government’s compliance with the Convention. Also, he asked what steps had been taken so far to “bring the courts closer to people”, as stated in the report, noting that no human rights treaties have been cited in a court of law. He remarked that a speedy ratification of the Optional Protocol could be a stimulus to increase the quality of judicial protection of women’s rights in the country.

SILVIA PIMENTEL, an expert from Brazil, said that since the country’s values and mentalities were determined largely by religion and tradition, it was necessary for civil society to be engaged in setting the priorities. Had the Government decided to increase its level of partnership with non-governmental organizations? She also said that, for State committees to obtain concrete results, their work must be accompanied by careful evaluation and analysis.

PRAMILA PATTEN, an expert from Mauritius, asked whether any measures would be taken to strengthen the national machinery dealing with the implementation of the Convention’s provisions, namely in terms of resources and its professional capacity. Also, she asked whether Government policies had been evaluated so far. On the report of the inter-ministerial reform of the Family Code, which recommended that 24 discriminatory provisions be amended, she asked whether there was a time frame on its follow-up. She also expressed concern about the lack of research on domestic violence and sexual harassment, which was crucial for clear policies to condemn this violence. How would institutional mechanisms be strengthened so that women could report incidences of violence against them while staying free from retaliation? Also, were there any measures to improve access of women to justice, especially of those in rural areas?

ROSARIO MANOLO, an expert from the Philippines, asked if victims of violence had the freedom to go directly to the courts in seeking redress, or must they go through the “non-judicial” system?

HEISOO SHIN, an expert from the Republic of Korea, noted that three steps needed to be taken in order to revise discriminatory laws. First, the law must be reviewed to identify the existence of discriminatory provisions. Next, the case must be debated within parliament. Finally, the law must be made operational, and the judiciary and women, in general, educated about the changes made. She noted that the inter-ministerial committee established to review the discriminatory provisions had officially ended its work in March 2003. What was the status of the proposals made by the committee, and had they been forwarded to parliament? Was the committee still in existence and, if so, would there be any other laws reviewed by them, aside from those relating to the Family Code? She also asked about the involvement of women’s organizations in the process, and whether there was a targeted end-date.

MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, an expert from Malaysia, asked whether the education of citizens and the judiciary in relation to women’s rights and the Convention sought to raise awareness of women’s rights to equality, which she noted was different from simply “women’s rights”. Also, she asked whether judges were made clear of their obligation to interpret the law, noting that no cases citing the Convention have yet been brought to court, and asked the panel to explain the contents of the judicial education. Regarding the mechanisms necessary for women to file complaints, she asked whether any data was being gathered on patterns of violations. What changes were required of the legal framework to enforce existing law?

DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, wondered about the position of the Convention in Togo’s legal system. It seemed that the country’s Constitution provided for the precedence of that instrument, but the report also stated that its provisions were not effective and that harmonization of the domestic laws with international standards was needed.

HANNA BEATE SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said that it was gratifying that after many years of neglect, the country was again making efforts to empower women. The Prime Minister, in submitting his action plan to the Assembly, had given women’s advancement a priority. Had that plan been actually mainstreamed? How did it relate to other, existing plans, including those related to the Millennium Development Goals? She also asked about the monitoring systems to evaluate the implementation of those plans and the percentage of the budget that was geared towards the goals for the advancement of women. She also noted that a key role for change actually lay with the tribal chiefs and asked what was being done to get their cooperation.

FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, asked for some clarifications regarding the country’s machinery for the advancement of women and various bodies’ interrelations.

Country Response

Responding to the experts’ comments and questions were the members of Togo’s delegation, which included Kanny Sokpoh-Diallo, Minister of Population, Social Affairs and the Promotion of Women; Eugenie Nakpa Polo, Overall Director for Human Rights, Ministry of Human Rights, Democracy and Reconciliation; Aminata Traore-Ayeva, Legal Adviser of Gender Equity to the Prime Minister; Dosse D’almeida, Director of Cabinet for the Minister of Justice; Yackoley Johnson, Legal Adviser to the Minister of Population, Social Affairs and the Promotion of Women; Leontine Akuavi Akakpo, Director General of the Promotion of Women, Ministry of Population, Social Affairs and the Promotion of Women; and Raouf Mama Tchangnao, Director of the Legal Status of Women, Ministry of Population, Social Affairs and the Promotion of Women.

Ms. SOKPOH-DIALLO said that the Committee’s encouragement was important for the country’s efforts. She also assured the experts that Togo’s civil society and non-governmental organizations were broadly involved in all the activities for the advancement of women. The new Togolese Government had already drafted a gender strategy plan, which was expected to be adopted at the end of January. Last December, a workshop had been held to fine-tune the Family Code and bring it in compliance with the Convention. Soon, the changes would be submitted for adoption.

Responding to Ms. Saiga’s question, she said that, over the years, the name of her Ministry had changed several times. Now it was called the Ministry of Population, Social Affairs and the Promotion of Women. As for the budget for gender programmes, the delegation would have to come back to the Committee with the answer.

Mr. D’ALMEIDA said that the 2005-2010 programme to modernize the justice system included a pilot subprogramme, which provided for access for rural women to the justice system. The programme envisioned a more independent and efficient system of justice. Civil judicial assistance would be provided by the Ministry of Justice through a specially dedicated fund. The Government also intended to fully revise the Civil and Family Codes.

Another important area related to the judges’ training, and that had been the purpose of a recent workshop. Article 140 of the Constitution provided for international instruments having authority transcending domestic law. In general, human rights instruments could be directly invoked by defendants, including women. So far, that approach had not been the same for the women’s Convention.

Ms. TRAORE-AYEVA provided an overview of the mandates that the Prime Minister had given to advisers on gender issues. She had the honour to be one of them. The advisers had been selected from the database of women executives in the country, as well as ambassadors and directors of institutions. A recent diagnostic study, which had been carried out in Togo, would enable the Government to identify areas where further efforts were required.

Some 16 amendments to the country’s legislation were currently being studied, she said. Education was a very important area where gender imbalances needed to be rectified. Efforts were being made to set up a system of positive discrimination to encourage the schooling of girls.

Experts Questions

Regarding temporary special measures in the education sector, Ms. PATTEN asked whether mechanisms were in place to monitor its implementation and to measure its progress. She also asked whether those measures had a time frame and asked for details of their impact. In addition, she asked whether special provisions were needed in order to apply temporary special measures to other sectors, and asked whether a Constitutional review was envisaged to preclude from having to make provisions in specific laws. Were there any provisions in the action plan of the new Government regarding participation of women in political and public life, as well as in international organizations?

Country Response

Ms. SOKPOH-DIALLO explained that difficulties in monitoring and evaluation were due to an absence of data, but a new census of the Togolese population would soon be undertaken. That census would take into account mainstreaming indicators, and hopefully, more details could be obtained as a result.

She assured the Committee that, regarding the education for girls in rural areas, there were indeed more girls in school than boys. She said it was due specifically to the plan of action adopted in December 2005 by the Council of Ministers, which provided funding to ensure that primary education be made universal by 2015. Also, at the beginning of the current school year, girls paid less for their schooling than boys, and further, schooling fees for girls in rural areas were lower than that for girls in other areas.

On Constitutional provisions that prevented the Convention from being applied, Ms. Sokpoh-Diallo said that a workshop was held in December 2005 to examine the issue and that recommendation would be forwarded to the Government upon completion of the exercise.

Regarding inheritance rights, she said that currently women could inherit from her husband only if he opted for the issue to be settled according to modern, rather than customary, law. This fact had already been pinpointed as not being in line with the Convention. As for women’s participation in political and public life, she acknowledged that much still needed to be done. Currently efforts were being made to improve women’s representation in government. For example, 30 per cent of posts within her own ministry were held by women, and the Secretary-General of the Foreign Affairs Ministry was a woman. However, there were no female leaders of political parties. She assured the Committee that efforts were being made to make clear to the Togolese population that women, too, take an active role in all areas of development.

Experts Questions

MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, an expert from Portugal, asked how the Government intended to breach the gap between “principles and good intentions” and the existing reality in Togo — where many traditions, such as forced early marriage, genital mutilation and others, were not in line with the Convention — and whether the Government would do so without delay. Also, she asked whether men would be involved in helping to change such traditions.

GLENDA P. SIMMS, an expert from Jamaica, noted that changing people’s mindset with regard to sexual roles and stereotypes would be “the greatest challenge”, where men still seemed to be the “incarnation of authority”. She asked how the Government proposed to “deconstruct the male patriarchy” in Togo, in the face of systemic barriers and the small number of women in parliament. What resources were available for such a task, and was there a strategy in place to take up such an endeavour?

Ms. SIMONOVIC said that the acceptance of gender stereotypes seemed to be a way of life that could not be changed. In face of this, what measures were being taken to break down those stereotypes? Also, although the Convention had precedence over national laws, its provisions were not self-executing and required incorporation in national legislation. Indeed, were Constitutional changes envisaged?

DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, congratulated the delegation on today’s presentation and the Government’s political will to improve the situation of women. However, she wanted to address the traditional and cultural practices that hindered the achievement of gender equality. She was particularly interested in the “ritual bondage” involving the placement of girls in fetish shrines, usually to atone for a crime committed by a member of her family. That violated the girls’ rights. Similar practices existed in her country, but the Government had taken measures to eliminate them. In that connection, she wanted to know what the Government of Togo was doing to eliminate harmful traditional practices.

KRISZTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, recalled that, according to the report, up to one quarter of adolescent girls had already experienced pregnancy. Less than half carried their babies to term. It seemed that women had access to abortions, and she wanted to know if there was research on the effect of early sexual life and abortions on young girls.

Country Response

Ms. SOKPOH-DIALLO said that she could not deny that, despite the Government’s efforts, many women were not aware of their rights. More needed to be done in that respect. Her Ministry intended to place great emphasis on education to make women familiar with their rights.

In implementing the Convention, the country “may be lagging behind a little, but you also have to realize the situation we have been living through since the early 1990s”, she said. While the country had gone through a difficult period, the new Government was determined to address gender equality issues.

Ms. AKUAVI AKAKPO added that the rights of women were being communicated to them through radio and television broadcasts, educational campaigns and workshops. Days devoted to specific topics had been organized by the country’s civil society, in cooperation with the Government. At the regional level, there was a programme — set up by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) — to make women aware of their rights. Through offices at the local level, women were being taught how to assert and enjoy their rights on a daily basis. Each ministerial department would soon have a gender focal point. An important role was played by literacy campaigns.

Regarding stereotypes, Ms. SOKPOH-DIALLO said that changing people’s mindsets took time. Certain tribal chiefs had clearly said that they wanted to support the gender concept. In particular, they were appealing to the people to send their girls to school.

Regarding abortion, she said that the new Health Code — now under study — would prohibit abortion, unless it was therapeutic. She also noted Ms. Morvai’s proposal to carry out a study of early sexuality. Last August, a law had been adopted prohibiting trafficking in children and, in July, nine countries of the area had joined an agreement to stop trafficking of girls for purposes of sexual exploitation. The Secretary of State responsible for children and the elderly was trying to raise awareness on that issue.

Experts Questions

Commenting on the trafficking of women and prostitution, Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, stressed that the two issues must be looked at together. She expressed disappointment in what she saw as the tendency to place “all the responsibility” regarding prostitution and its related problems on the women themselves and their supposed “moral depravity”. She noted that prostitutes did not engage in prostitution alone, but required clients, who were usually men, and urged that the demand-side of prostitution be examined more deeply. She asked for a clear explanation of the Government’s position on prostitution, and further asked whether Togo had ratified the Convention for the suppression of the traffic in persons.

Country Response

Ms. SOKPOH-DIALLO expressed agreement with Ms. Morvai’s comments, and said that the Government has expressed political will to fight against those promoting prostitution, including the clients and procurers. As a mark of its political will, the Government had declared 31 July to be Women’s Day.

Addressing the police’s round-up of prostitutes, she explained that a majority of those involved in the industry were minors, and upon being rounded up, were taken into care with their consent and subjected to medical examinations. Non-governmental organizations, such as Providence House, played a major role in that area.

Mr. D’ALMEIDA said that Togo had ratified the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others on 14 March 1990.

Experts Questions

XIAOQIAO ZOU, an expert from China, noted that the percentage of women’s participation in political life was low, with only 6 per cent of parliament members being women, 11 per cent as mayors, and no women governors. She asked whether the Government’s next steps might include the establishment of a quota system.

She also remarked that women did not have an equal chance of being elected, perhaps due to stereotypes, and wanted to know if research had been conducted in this area and whether activities would be carried out to solve the problem.

VICTORIA POPESCU, an expert from Romania, asked about the absence of women in local structures, mentioned in a 2001 report, and how that hampered their ability to serve at the central level. Had the situation changed since then? What had the Government done to achieve a better representation of women at the local level? She also stressed the need to develop cooperation among the Government, non-governmental organizations and women’s associations in that regard, and encouraged the adoption of specific temporary measures to improve their participation. She also asked whether action had been taken to encourage and mobilize women to participate in the voting process, and whether it was true that a husband could vote in place of his wife.

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, an expert from Algeria, said that in order for development to take place, it was necessary to bring about equality between men and women. For that, financial resources were needed and she acknowledged the difficulties faced by a country from the poorest continent in the world. She noted the absence of a quota system, but suggested that such a system was necessary for favourable laws on schooling, employment, representation within political parties and so on, and could be pushed forward.

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert of Cuba, commended the country’s high level of representation at the Committee. She shared another expert’s view that participation of women at the community level was an important precondition of achieving gender equality. A number of measures had been taken to guarantee women’s presence in public office, but it was not clear if such measures were part of a global structure to guarantee equality. She also wanted to know about the results of the diagnostic gender study in 2005 with regard to political participation of women and difficulties encountered in that respect. Had the Government considered adopting specific measures on the basis of that study?

Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, asked for several clarifications on the issue of nationality. Why hadn’t the Nationality Code been brought in line with international standards? Had a draft children’s law been adopted? Was it true that a Togolese woman could not have her foreign husband acquire the country’s nationality? One of his other questions related to the information contained in the report that a Togolese woman carrying the name of her husband required her husband’s consent to get a passport. What if she retained her own name? News and Media Division o New York.

Comments are closed.