Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women Opens Seventy-ninth Online Session

OHCHR

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today opened its online seventy-ninth session, hearing a statement by Simon Walker 

Representative of the Secretary-General and Chief of Section One, Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and adopting its agenda and organization of work.

Mr. Walker said that the Office of the High Commissioner was acutely aware of the need to recommence in-person sessions as soon as the situation and travel restrictions in Switzerland allowed.  A full 2021 budget allotment had been received, which meant there were no financial impediments to the meetings.  In-person sessions were important to ensure that the growing backlog of the States party reports amassed over the period of the pandemic could be treated.  Of similar concern was the ever-growing backlog of individual communications that were ready for an admissibility and/or merits decision by the relevant Committees.  He said the thirty-third annual Meeting of Chairpersons of the Human Rights Treaty Bodies had been a timely opportunity for the Chairs to discuss strategies, building on the Chairs’ vision and the report of the co-facilitators on the 2020 treaty body review process. 

Gladys Acosta Vargas, Committee Chairperson, said that the Committee had decided not to schedule any online reviews for this session given the logistical and technological challenges faced last time, and expressed hope that it would resume through in-person meetings as soon as possible and review the 12 States party reports scheduled for the session in October/November 2021.

Ms. Acosta Vargas provided an update on her activities during the intersessional period as did the following Committee Experts: Naéla Gabr, Bandana Rana, Marion Bethel, Rhoda Reddock, Genovena Tisheva, Aruna Narain and Nicole Ameline, Hiroko Akizuki, Rosario Manalo, Elgin Safarov, Jie Xia and Natsha Scott Despoja.

Speaking under agenda item 4 on the consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 18 of the Convention, Committee Expert Bandana Rana took the floor.  Speaking under agenda item 5 on follow-up to the consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 18 of the Convention, Committee Expert Louiza Chalal took the floor. 

A joint statement from international non-governmental organizations and coalitions working for the protection of women’s rights and the rights of marginalised communities, highlighted the situation of women’s rights in five countries whose reviews had been postponed at least twice since June-July 2020: Indonesia, Yemen, Nicaragua, Peru, and South Africa. 

Committee Expert and Vice-Chairperson Nahla Haidar underlined the issue of the digital divide for the Committee, affecting where the different Experts were based, as well as the situation in States parties. 

The Committee’s session will take place online from 21 June to 1 July. 

Documentation, including the agenda and the programme of work, can be found at the session webpage.

The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at  https://webtv.un.org/.  Meeting summaries in English and French are available on the Meeting Summaries page of the United Nations Office at Geneva website.

The Committee will next meet at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, 24 June, to hold a day of general discussion on the rights of indigenous women and girls. 

Statements

SIMON WALKER, Representative of the Secretary-General and Chief of Section One, Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, thanked the Committee Experts for their commitment to produce high-quality work from a distance, including guidance and recommendations on how to address the human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Office of the High Commissioner was acutely aware of the need to recommence in-person sessions, as soon as the situation and travel restrictions in Switzerland allowed.  A full 2021 budget allotment had been received, which meant there were no financial impediments to the meetings.  In-person sessions were important to ensure that the growing backlog of the States party reports amassed over the period of the pandemic could be treated: at the end of May 2021, the total backlog of States party reports of all treaty bodies was at 315, which meant that it had almost doubled in the last year and a half.  Of similar concern was the ever-growing backlog of individual communications that were ready for an admissibility and/or merits decision by the relevant Committees.

The thirty-third annual Meeting of Chairpersons of the Human Rights Treaty Bodies was a timely opportunity for the Chairs to discuss strategies, building on the Chairs’ vision and the report of the co-facilitators on the 2020 treaty body review process.  Issues under discussion included: (1) the development of a predictable review cycle calendar that maximised synergies and complementarities across treaty bodies and ensured full reporting compliance, (2) the ongoing harmonisation of working methods; and (3) the digital transition, including using new technological developments to increase efficiency, transparency and accessibility of the system.

Mr. Walker provided an update on the forty-seventh regular session of the Human Rights Council where two panels on the human rights of women would be held, focusing on violence against women and girls with disabilities and on gender-equal socioeconomic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Also the High Commissioner would open the high-level panel discussion on the multi-sectoral prevention of and response to female genital mutilation and the Council would consider draft resolutions of particular relevance to the Committee on menstrual hygiene management, human rights and gender equality; equal enjoyment of the right to education of every girl; preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights; and accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, focusing on preventing and responding to all forms of violence against women and girls with disabilities and the elimination of female genital mutilation.  The Beijing+25 Generation Equality Forum would take place in Paris and the Office of the High Commissioner was one of the co-leaders of the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Feminist Movements and Leadership.

GLADYS ACOSTA VARGAS, Committee Chairperson, said that since the last session, the number of States parties that had ratified or acceded to the Convention remained at 189.  The number of States parties that had accepted the amendment to article 20, paragraph 1, of the Convention concerning the Committee’s meeting time remained at 80.  A total of 126 States parties to the Convention were currently required to accept the amendment in order to bring it into force, in accordance with its provisions.  The number of States parties to the Optional Protocol to the Convention remained at 114.  Costa Rica, France, The Gambia, Malawi, Rwanda, Ukraine, Uruguay, and Venezuela had submitted their periodic reports to the Committee.  Ms. Vargas informed about her intersessional participation in online events related to the implementation of women’s rights.  The Committee had decided not to schedule any online reviews for this session given the logistical and technological challenges faced last time, and expressed hope that t would resume through in-person meetings as soon as possible and review the 12 State party reports scheduled for the session in October/November 2021.

BANDANA RANA, Committee Expert, presented the update of the pre-sessional working group for the seventy-ninth session under agenda item 4 on the consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 18 of the Convention.  She informed about the lists of issues and questions with regard to the reports of Egypt, Jamaica, Lebanon, Morocco, Portugal, and St.  Kitts and Nevis, in addition to lists of issues prior to reporting for Brazil, Greece, and St.  Vincent and the Grenadines.  The lists of issues and questions and lists of issues prior to reporting adopted by the pre-sessional working group had been transmitted to the States parties concerned.

LOUIZA CHALAL, Committee Expert, concerning agenda item 5 on follow-up to the consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 18 of the Convention, said the Committee had decided previously to postpone the assessment of follow-up reports to concluding observations and to increase the number of assessments of follow-up reports from 8 to 12 for this session and the seventy-ninth session, respectively, in order to avoid backlog.  Follow-up letters outlining the outcome of assessments of follow-up reports were sent to Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Ireland, New Zealand, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, North Macedonia, Luxembourg, State of Palestine, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico and first reminders regarding overdue follow-up reports were sent to Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Botswana, Republic of Congo, Cook Islands, Ethiopia, Liechtenstein, Samoa, and Serbia.

Joint Non-Governmental Organizations Statement, in a joint statement by five international non-governmental organizations and coalitions working for the protection of women’s rights and rights of marginalised communities, highlighted the situation of women’s rights in five countries whose reviews had been postponed at least twice since June-July 2020: Indonesia, Yemen, Nicaragua, Peru and South Africa. 

Concerning Indonesia, there was still no national regulation to stop economic exploitation and sexual harassment for female workers.  Around 4.2 million domestic workers in Indonesia were still unrecognised and discriminated against as women workers and as citizens.  Without a law to protect them, they were excluded from social security and safety programmes.  In the COVID-19 pandemic, they and their families were facing a crisis of food, housing, health and were vulnerable to multiple forms of violence and debt bondage.

GLADYS ACOSTA VARGAS, Committee Chairperson, said the Committee had been unable to undertake periodic reviews due to working conditions that had been very challenging but that she hoped that developments would allow the Committee to review the reports of 12 States parties in the October session.

Concerning Yemen, the joint statement said that the review of Yemen had been postponed for the third time since the start of the pandemic.  This was particularly concerning since the last time the Committee had held a constructive dialogue on a periodic report by Yemen was 13 years ago.  Even before the war, Yemen had ranked last in gender equality indexes.  The ongoing armed conflict had exacerbated pre-existing patterns of discrimination against women and girls, exposing them to unprecedented levels of human rights violations and abuses. 

With regard to Peru, a political and health crisis directly affected the rights of women, girls and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.  During the health crisis caused by COVID-19, gender-based violence had increased, gender-based violence complaints had risen by 130, and 138 sexual violence complaints had been registered. 

In Nicaragua, the socio-political crisis had escalated into an emergency.  In recent weeks, repression had worsened dramatically with the detention of 16 prominent opposition figures (of whom six were women), including four probable presidential candidates aiming to challenge President Daniel Ortega in November’s national elections. 

In South Africa, it had been 10 years since the last Committee review and the country had the highest recorded incidents of violence against women.  The apartheid’s legacy of inequality and violence had placed poor Black women in a particularly vulnerable position. 

GLADYS ACOSTA VARGAS, Committee Chairperson, thanked all non-governmental organizations for bringing important realities faced by women and girls to the floor and explained that the reorganization of working methods was currently being discussed to be able to address issues faced by women worldwide.  It was not just the backlog before the pandemic, but since the pandemic outbreak the Committee had been brought to an unmanageable position.  The Committee remained steadfast to its commitment.  The last session’s proposed dialogue with Denmark had had to be suspended due to time zone changes and connectivity issues.

NAHLA HAIDAR, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, stressed that the issue of the digital divide for the Committee affected where the different Experts were based, as well as digital connections in States parties.  They had only had one option of having one country review per session, and this was a country from the north.  This had to be properly captured by the non-governmental organizations.  The Committee had produced very important results during the last sessions at a high cost.  Non-governmental organizations and the Committee were fighting the same battle and Ms. Haidar felt that speeches by non-government organizations had had a negative vibe and asked them for more understanding.

Link: Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Opens Seventy-ninth Online Session | UN GENEVA

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