Civil Society Organizations Brief the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the Situation of Women in Republic of Korea,…

OHCHR

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was this afternoon briefed by representatives of civil society organizations on the situation of women’s rights in Republic of Korea, Montenegro, Singapore and Estonia, the reports of which the Committee will review this week.

In relation to Republic of Korea, speakers raised concerns regarding the Government’s lack of action to implement the Committee’s recommendations; the definition of rape; and discrimination experienced by female North Korean defectors.

On Montenegro, speakers addressed the low level of female political representation; gender-based violence; and the perceived lack of focus of the Council for Democracy on empowering women.

Non-governmental organizations speaking on Singapore raised topics including gender stereotypes; online domestic violence; and issues faced by female domestic workers.

Regarding Estonia, speakers raised issues related to female public participation; the gender pay gap; and the lack of sexuality education in schools.

The Human Rights Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea spoke on Republic of Korea, as did the following non-governmental organizations: Korea Women’s Associations United (KWAU); Korea Women’s Hot-Line (KWHL); Rainbow Action Against Sexual Minority Discrimination; Onyul – Nonprofit Corporation of Public Interest Lawyers; and Rights for Female North Korean Defector.

The following non-governmental organizations spoke on Montenegro: Women’s Rights Center, Association Spectra, Association of Youth with Disabilities and Center for Roma Initiatives and Women’s Rights Center, Association Spectra, Association of Youth with Disabilities and Center for Roma Initiatives.

The following non-governmental organizations spoke on Singapore: Singapore Council of Women’s Organisation (SCWO), SG Her Empowerment (SHE), Beyond The Hijab and Musawwah, End Female Genital Cutting (End FGC), Singapore Muslim Women’s Association (PPIS), Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), SAYONI and Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE).

The following non-governmental organizations spoke on Estonia: Women Support and Information Center NPO and Union for Violence-Free Life.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s eighty-eighth session is being held from 13 May to 31 May. All documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. Meeting summary releases can be found here. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed via the UN Web TV webpage.

The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 14 May to consider the ninth periodic report of Republic of Korea (CEDAW/C/KOR/9).

Opening Remarks by the Committee Chair

ANA PELÁEZ NARVÁEZ, Committee Chairperson, said this was the first opportunity during the session for non-governmental organizations to provide information on States parties that were having their reports reviewed during the first week, namely Republic of Korea, Montenegro, Singapore and Estonia. A second meeting would be held on Monday 20 May, where civil society would provide information on the countries under consideration in the second week of the session.

Statements by Non-Governmental Organizations from Republic of Korea, Montenegro, Singapore and Estonia

Republic of Korea

On Republic of Korea, speakers, among other things, said it was concerning that the new President, who had taken office May 2022, had taken no action to implement the Committee’s recommendations, and gender policies had seen a decline. The President had attempted to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, claiming there was no structural discrimination in Republic of Korea, and therefore no need for a ministry. There had also been no progress in adopting an anti-discrimination law. The Government should prevent the abolition of the Ministry and adopt an anti-discrimination law without delay.

Speakers noted that resources for combatting domestic violence had been reduced. The term “violence against women” was omitted from the six key tasks of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. Numerous cases of violence against intimate partners continued to occur, with no statistics reported, and an insufficient response by law enforcement and the judiciary. The Government had not adhered to the Committee’s recommendation to revise the definition of rape. The Government should ensure safe abortion and establish a comprehensive support system and should also guarantee transgender persons’ access to care. Same sex marriage needed to be recognised through amendment of the Civil Code.

Single mothers in South Korea encountered significant difficulties with childcare support payments, with some stating they had never received any payments. North Korean defector women were forced to endure unfair wage discrimination and domestic violence. Their salaries and employment rate lagged behind the national average. Despite enduring the trauma of forced repatriation, North Korean mothers entering South Korea were forcibly separated from their children during the defection process to China and were still required to travel to China for reunions with their children. The Counter-Espionage Law posed a threat to their safety and status as former North Koreans. The State should establish protective measures for these mothers.

Montenegro

Speakers said the Government of Montenegro showed a lack of awareness and political interest in enacting the Committee’s recommendations, which remained unaddressed. The key male political actors excluded women from important political negotiations and processes, resulting in a low percentage of women in Parliament and the lowest percentage of women in the Government since 2012, at 21 per cent and 17 per cent, respectively. No women had been appointed as Deputy Prime Minister. Gender based violence remained a serious concern, with at least 12 women being murdered by their family members and partners during the period of 2018 to 2024.

One speaker said the elected president of the newly created Council for Demography, which was mandated with creating incentives for increasing the birth rate and family planning, was known for his conservative attitudes towards the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons community and for alleged violent behaviour. During his mandate in the previous Government, the Ministry of Health passed a regulation denying women in same-sex unions the right to in vitro fertilization at the expense of the State. Furthermore, the Council for Demography had also limited the participation of women’s rights-oriented non-governmental organizations, raising concerns that the Council was not focused on empowering women and encouraging gender equality.

Singapore

Speakers on Singapore said despite some positive developments in the field of women’s rights, more needed to be done. Breaking down gender stereotypes within society was a key issue. Changing mindsets and building healthy masculinity ideals started at home. There needed to be a zero-tolerance policy on workplace harassment, which was not currently in place. Paid family care leave needed to be introduced, and there needed to be a mindset shift to encourage fathers to take on a greater role. Maternity and paternity leave needed to be equalised. The State was called on to provide more resources to companies to redesign and reengineer workplace cultures, as well as increase opportunities for flexible working.

Domestic violence in the online world was an increasing issue for women. While Singapore had made good progress in the physical world, attacks in the online space needed to be addressed urgently. Such harms, including cyber stalking, impacted the mental health and safety of women. An E-Safety Commission established by the Government would be crucial in addressing these issues. Homosexuality was dehumanised in Singapore, and homosexuals had been compared to paedophiles by a prominent official. Lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex students faced bullying and harassment from teachers and were often sent home from school and university. This needed to be addressed.

Muslim women in Singapore experienced discrimination, said one speaker, including when it came to being granted permission to marry and during divorce. It was recommended that the Committee urge Singapore to lift reservations to articles 2 and 16 of the Convention. Over 75 per cent of Muslim women in Singapore had undergone female genital cutting, with great health risks. Police and legal measures should be implemented to prevent and address this practice. Religion could not be used to abuse. It was pivotal for more data to be collected on Muslim women.

It was currently illegal for a female migrant domestic worker to become pregnant; pregnant domestic workers faced termination and could be blacklisted, and therefore turned to unsafe abortion techniques. This prohibition should be removed. The Employment Act should be expanded to cover domestic workers and ensure they received adequate rest days. Migrant spouses were marginalised due to their nationality and class, and it was difficult to obtain Singaporean citizenship. The State should publish eligibility criteria for residency for migrant spouses and allow abused migrant workers to renew their residency permits without a spouse.

A speaker said children born out of wedlock were labelled as “illegitimate” in Singapore, and single mothers received less support than married mothers. Child-related benefits should be equalised for unwed parents. The State needed to redefine the family nucleus to include unwed mothers and their children.

Estonia

Those speaking on Estonia said some positive changes had been made in Estonia since the previous report. However, women disproportionality bore the burden of unpaid caregiving and domestic duties, and men were overrepresented in leadership roles. Of the five management board members of the Estonian Public Broadcasting organization, only one was a woman. Campaigns to raise awareness and to promote women in leadership roles should be implemented within the public sphere. Quotas for female participation should also be introduced. Estonia had one of the highest gender pay gaps in Europe. Public and private sector employers should provide data on wages broken down by gender, job function and length of tenure, to ensue transparency.

Despite previous recommendations from the Committee, only a small fraction of rape cases was prosecuted in Estonia. The State needed to transition its legislation from a no-consent framework to a consent-based model to address sexual offences more effectively. Comprehensive sexual education was missing from school curriculums. Gender equality and sexuality education should be integrated into school curriculums. Domestic violence tended to be ignored in practice. The Penal Code did not address all areas of violence, meaning violent offences sometimes went unpunished; coercive control should be included within the Code. There was a lack of understanding of domestic violence within the judiciary. Training should be introduced to ascertain impartial and well-informed proceedings.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert said Singapore was a shining example to parts of Asia. However, harmful stereotypes were persisting; had there been any significant awareness programmes engaging men and boys in Singapore? Had they been impactful in changing mindsets? Was training given to teachers on how to impart sexuality education? Were there any measures to address online violence?

Another Expert said Singapore had made a reservation on Article 11; what was the reason for this?

A Committee Expert asked Montenegro if there was a ministerial body coordinating issues concerning gender-based violence and gender stereotyping? What were the main points concerning the financing of non-governmental organizations? For Estonia, how were non-governmental organizations financed?

A Committee Expert asked Montenegro about hate speech, which was prevalent within the State party. How would this phenomenon by combatted? Had there been any debates on introducing penalties for a lack of gender mainstreaming?

Responses by Non-Governmental Organizations

Singapore

Responding to questions on Singapore, the speaker said two years ago, the Government had created the Singapore Women’s White Paper, which presented 25 action points, including actions to shift mindsets on gender. Several surveys had been conducted on mindsets among younger and older people, and a support centre for victims of online violence had been established. The Boys Empower Programme had been created to overcome negative gender stereotypes and toxic masculinity. Workshops were conducted, and data was being collected. The programme targeted boys from the ages of 17 and older, with interest from schools in starting them even younger.

Another speaker said stereotypes were taught when children were young. Sexuality education in Singapore was very conservative and did not include topics such has consent. It could be a lot stronger. A speaker said migrant domestic workers were excluded from the Singaporean Employment Act. The reason given by the Government for this was that domestic work was different from other forms of work; there was a strong gender angle to this, as domestic workers in Singapore were required to be female. They should be included under the Employment Act, so that it could provide them with basic protections such as overtime hours and sick leave, which they were currently not entitled to.

Montenegro

Responding to questions on Montenegro, a speaker said there was no ministerial body for gender-based violence. The only body dealing with gender-based violence was a Governmental body which had started its work a month ago. Montenegro had a situation where a non-governmental organization had been run by a perpetrator of human trafficking. The law had been manipulated so that the organization received money from the State. The Law on Non-Governmental Organizations had not been changed to prevent people who had been convicted of violence from running non-governmental organizations. The prosecution should be more diligent in identifying cases of hate speech against women, including against female politicians. This issue also should be addressed through the educational system and through a strategy to combat hate speech.

Estonia

A speaker, responding on Estonia, said violence protection strategic documents were in place, and the Government was trying to address gaps. An action plan had been created, which would hopefully change the curriculum in schools to include sexuality education. Non-governmental organizations in Estonia were not financed adequately and had not received any additional funds since 2018.

Statements by National Human Rights Institutions

KYUSUN NAM, Human Rights Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, said discrimination against sexual minorities was serious in Republic of Korea, and it was necessary to enact a comprehensive anti-discrimination law to protect vulnerable groups. In 2021, a career soldier was forcibly discharged from the military because she had sex reassignment surgery. After that, she committed suicide during her lawsuit against the State. Her tragedy revealed the challenges that transgender people faced in Korea. Controversy also continued to arise over the abolition of some local human rights ordinances, including a clause prohibiting discrimination against sexual minorities. Considering this, development of anti-discrimination legislation should be recognised as an urgent task for Korean society. These issues had been addressed to the Human Rights Committee last October during its review of the Republic of Korea. The National Human Rights Commission had promoted the enactment of anti-discrimination law since 2006, as well as the enactment a draft of an Equality Act to the National Assembly for its enactment in 2020. The National Human Rights Commission was not able to include the issue of anti-discrimination law in its recent report to the Committee, due to disagreements among commissioners.

Furthermore, the national gender equality budget for 2024 had been drastically reduced, following the announcement of the current administration’s plan to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. For example, the budget for preventive education on digital sexual crimes had been cut, although those crimes were more than doubling year-on-year. The budget for sexuality rights education for vulnerable groups, such as children with disabilities, the budget to support the victims of Japanese military sexual slavery and the budget for projects to prevent human trafficking had also all been significantly reduced.

It was also concerning that gender equality policy under the current administration was regressing across multiple ministries. Recently, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety attempted to remove the performance indicators of the Gender Impact Assessment. The Ministry of Education completely removed the term “sexual minorities” from the 2022 Revised Curriculum and replaced the terms of “gender equality” and “sexual and reproductive health and rights” with other words with limited concepts. Key indicators of gender equality, such as the gender wage gap, representation of women and gender-based violence, were currently red warning lights. Barely any progress had been made in response to the Committee’s last concluding observations, in particular in adopting a consent-based definition of rape, enhancing the labour rights of migrant women, and allowing the reform of patrilineal surnames. Ms. Nam asked the Committee to peruse proposed recommendations in the Commission’s previously submitted report.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert asked if the Human Rights Commissioner had any information about violations of the rights of children born by foreign women in Korea, and their limitations? What action had been taken on this?

A Committee Expert said there were contradictory facts about the Gender Ministry. Was it functional? What were the key challenges in this regard?

Responses by the National Human Rights Institution

KYUSUN NAM, Human Rights Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, said children born in South Korea, based on their parents’ nationality, could not receive Korean nationality. This meant they had difficulty accessing hospitals and had difficulty at school. To resolve these issues, the Commission was working to help parents acquire Korean nationality. Ms. Nam said the President had promised to abolish the Ministry for Gender Equality and Family as a strategy to gain popularity among male voters. After the Minister of Gender Equality and Families had resigned, a new leader had not been appointed. Budget towards this entity had been decreased by 5.7 million United States dollars, significantly damaging the policy approach. Gender performance indexes within policies and the school curriculum had also been significantly reduced by the Government. The Republic of Korea was reviewing its ninth report with the Committee and instead of progress, there were only backtracks. The level of public representation of women in South Korea was very low. Last April, only 20 per cent of the whole Congress of the Assembly were women. There was still a long way to go.

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