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LIBERIA: Liberia Is Writing New History For Its Women And Girls, Delegation Tells Women's Antidiscrimination Comittee, Admiting Great Challenges In That Endeavour

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women recognized the legislative and policy steps of Liberia to ensure women's rights and empowerment, but today expressed deep concern over the continued prevalence of discriminatory practices in that conflict-worn sub-Saharan nation, such as sexual and physical violence against women and girls.

Presenting Liberia's first through sixth periodic report on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Vabah Gayflor, Minister of Gender and Development, said the Government was working to create a more equal and non-discriminatory society, economy and State by making gender mainstreaming a priority in the country's development of the rule of law, security, health care, education and the formal economy.

"This commitment is not an empty verbal promise, but one that we, as a Government take seriously," Ms. Gayflor said. "We are in the process of writing a new history for our nation's women and girls."

Great challenges existed in that regard, she acknowledged. Women were very economically dependent on men and vulnerable to sexual abuse. They lagged behind in education and the formal economy, and were disproportionately represented in the informal and agricultural sectors. Liberia's maternal mortality rate was staggeringly high. It had yet to domesticate the women's Convention, and law enforcement to protect women was weak.

To right those injustices, the Ministry of Gender and Development, with the support of several Western European Governments and United Nations agencies, was distributing farming equipment to rural women, building shelters for female victims of violence, and training and providing credit for women entrepreneurs. It had set up "girls-friendly" schools in targeted areas and community-managed child care centres. "Mini dramas" that explained the Convention in simple language were aired on local radio stations nationwide and performed on street corners in Monrovia, the capital.

The Government was also working with the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNIFIL) to review national laws for bias or discrimination against women, and it had installed gender focal points in 19 of the Government's 21 Ministries, she said. The Convention and a national action plan to implement Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security had already empowered women to a large extent.

Women continued to battle social intolerance and women's economic dependence on men was high. She stressed the Government's commitment to women's empowerment. "This commitment is not an empty verbal promise, but one that we, as a Government take seriously," she said. "As we implement the Lift Liberia Strategy, we are working to ensure a more equal and non-discriminatory society, economy and State. We are in the process of writing a new history for our nation's women and girls."

Committee experts acknowledged the Government's commitment to women's empowerment, but urged that more be done to meet the challenges head on. One expert noted that 44 per cent of Liberian women over the age of 20 had experienced violence in their lifetime and 22 per cent of Liberian women overall had experienced violence in the past year. The Government, they said, must tackle that with the same boldness with which it had taken on other challenges to women's empowerment. Others expressed concern that the Government's efforts to combat female genital mutilation and gender-based violence were weak. They urged the passage of legislation to criminalize such harmful practices and sanction offenders, as a priority.

Experts also expressed worries over forced marriage of girls as young as 14, pregnant girls dropping out of school, poor educational opportunities for girls in rural areas and gender bias in higher education. They questioned the slowness in drafting the National Gender Policy, and whether the Fairness bill that set quotas for women in national elected office and political parties would be enforced.

The delegation acknowledged that female genital mutilation was a problem, and said the Government intended to use the Convention as an advocacy tool to combat it. Women lawyers were trying to obtain information from Ghana and Sierra Leone, which had adopted laws and actions plans to address mutilation and other gender-based violence, in order to replicate those efforts at home. The national police force under the Ministry of Justice had installed Women and Children Protection Units in all of the country's 15 counties, and each of the Ministry's political subdivisions now had a county attorney to prosecute cases.

Sexual and gender-based violence crimes units provided prosecutorial and support services to victims, while local citizens lent support through community policing forums, delegates said. Support to rape victims was also being strengthened, along with efforts to properly collect evidence, and awareness was being built so that women felt more confident to report incidences of the crime.

To ensure pregnant girls received an education, evening classes had been set up where they could continue their studies free from teasing and shaming by their peers. After giving birth, they were encouraged to return to their regular school. The Government had built 115 primary schools and five secondary schools, greatly helping to increase girls' enrolment in rural areas. Teachers who sexually harassed girls in schools were suspended without pay for five years, or indefinitely, depending on the seriousness of the offence.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m., on Monday, 3 August, to consider the combined first through sixth periodic report of Guinea-Bissau.

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to consider the combined first through sixth periodic reports of Liberia (document CEDAW/C/LBR/6).

Vabah Gayflor, Minister of Gender and Development, introduced the report. Also present from her Ministry were Parleh Harris, James Cooper, Lorpu Mannah, John Darwolo, Mariama Brown, Sarah Cole, Baindu Saturday and Bernice Freeman. Additional delegates included: Joseph Korto, Minister of Education; Annette Kiawu, Deputy Minister of Gender for Research and Technical Services; Eva Mappy Morgan, Deputy Minister of Justice for Administration and Public Safety; Charles Minor, Chargé d'Affairs of the Permanent Mission of Liberia to the United Nations; Bernice Dahn, Deputy Minister and Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare; Mabel Flumo, Gender Focal Person for African Women of the Ministry of Education; and Deweh Gray and Daylue Bernard, Ministry of Justice.

Presentation of Report

Ms. GAYFLOR, recognizing that persistent discrimination existed against women in Liberian society, said the Government had prioritized gender mainstreaming into the development process and was working to gain ground for women in the economy, the rule of law, health, education and security. Preparation of the report had been challenging for the country, which had just emerged from years of civil crisis. Almost all of the report's data had only become available in the past year. The report conveyed women's security vulnerabilities and health risks, as well as gender gaps in education and participation in the formal economy. Women were vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation. Liberia's maternal mortality rate was staggeringly high. Girls were not equally represented in secondary school and women were disproportionately represented in the informal and agricultural sectors.

She said that since submitting the report, the Government had convened a national steering committee on achieving the third Millennium Development Goal and had entered into a $20 million programme with the Danish Government to assist it. Work plans had been developed, in accordance with the Government's poverty reduction strategy and the Committee's recommendations, to economically empower women and achieve gender equality. The programme had already begun distributing farming implements and agro-processing machines to rural women. The Ministry of Gender and Development, with support from the Spanish Fund for African Women and the New Economic Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), was implementing a two-year project to improve women's well-being, including by building safe houses in targeted counties and providing microcredit to 3,000 vulnerable women and victims of gender-based violence.

The Ministry of Gender and Development, with support from the Nike Foundation, World Bank and the Danish Government, was implementing an economic empowerment programme for adolescent girls, she said. It was also implementing a "Building Women's Entrepreneurship Programme", which provided skills training and capacity building, as well as soft loans to finance small business enterprises. In February, the Government formed, with the United Nations, the Gender Equality and Women's Economic Empowerment Programme, aimed at increasing women's access to credit, moving women into the formal sector, and improving women's and girl's access to education, with a focus on secondary school and adult literacy programmes.

Through the National Rural Women's Programme, launched in December 2008, the Government had created a new and powerful voice for rural women at the community, local and national levels, she said. It had already supported more than 20,000 women with infrastructure, seed distribution, tools and new processing equipment. The Ministry, in partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), was finalizing an assessment for jointly implementing the "Individual Assistance to Conflict Affected Women and Girls Project", in Lofa County, to help bring peace, stability and security to women in that former war-stricken area. The Government was committed to reducing the school dropout rate among girls through its free and compulsory primary education policy and its girls' education policy, which had already shown positive results. It had built "girls-friendly" schools in targeted areas, community-managed childcare centres, and launched mentoring programmes for girls, as well as teacher training for women.

Liberia was fully committed to implementing Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) through a national action plan coordinated by a secretariat in the Ministry of Gender and Development, she said. The Italian Government had donated $1.5 million to Liberia through the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to support its implementation. The Government was supporting regular dialogue and other outreach to enhance collaboration and accountability among communities, local authorities, security sector organs and the legislature to improve security. In order to reduce gender-based violence, it had set up community policing forums throughout the country and established a partnership between the Liberian National Police and the community in recognition of the shared responsibility in ensuring a safe environment for all.

As land was a major ingredient for women's economic empowerment, she said that an Act had been introduced to create a Land Reform Commission that would remove existing barriers to women's land ownership. It had been passed by the National Legislature and was now awaiting the President's signature. She hoped that the Law Reform Commission, established on 11 June, would repeal any existing discriminatory laws. The Government, with the support of the Office of the Gender Advisor of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), was conducting an analysis of national laws to determine whether they were biased or discriminatory against women. Its outcome would serve as the basis for advocacy to change and strengthen laws.

Through the Ministry of Justice, each political subdivision now had a legally-qualified county attorney to prosecute cases, she said. The Government had set up sexual and gender-based violence crimes units to provide prosecutorial and support services to victims of sexual offences. A second draft of the National Gender Policy should be finalized this year. Nineteen of the 21 Government Ministries now had gender focal points. The first session of the National Gender Forum should convene by year's end and would be chaired by the President. The Fairness Bill before the National Legislature provided for a minimum of 30 per cent representation of women as national elected officers and heads of the principal and subsidiary organs and structures of each registered political party.

The Ministry of Gender and Development had launched a massive public awareness campaign on the Convention, she said. That included the creation of "mini dramas" about the Convention called "CEDAW Outreach", described in simple language. They were aired on local radio stations throughout the country and performed on street corners and in various communities in Monrovia. All of the Committee's recommendations to Liberia had been incorporated into the Government's three-year development strategy and tracked for accountability. The Government was committed to making progress on them in the next two years.

Still, challenges existed, she said. Liberia had yet to domesticate the Convention and law enforcement to protect women was weak. Women continued to battle social intolerance and women's economic dependence on men was high. She stressed the Government's commitment to women's empowerment. "This commitment is not an empty verbal promise, but one that we, as a Government take seriously," she said. "As we implement the Lift Liberia Strategy, we are working to ensure a more equal and non-discriminatory society, economy and State. We are in the process of writing a new history for our nation's women and girls."

Experts' Comments and Questions

CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, welcomed the inclusion of a recommendation for a gender equality law in Liberia's report. He asked about plans for such a law and about the existence of a human rights commission. He also asked what obstacles blocked the speedy publication of the Convention in the interest of its integration into national law.

NICOLE AMELINE, expert from France, congratulated the delegation on its comprehensive report and on its hard work following the long civil war. However, the duality of the judicial system was a central problem, and it allowed discrimination against women to continue in many areas, along with the fact that the Constitution did not adequately deal with discrimination and violence. The rule of law must be the cornerstone for Liberia's development, she commented, asking for more information on plans to eradicate violence against women, as well as legal action and reparation for acts of sexual violence during the war.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, said that the participatory process out of which the report arose was very valuable. She reiterated her colleagues' questions about plans for the official publication of the Convention and its integration into the legal system, given the system's dual nature. She also asked about prospects for strengthening the definition of gender discrimination in the Constitution.

Country Response

The delegation said that a law reform commission had been created that was prioritizing some of the concerns raised by the experts. A human rights commission had indeed been established and would work with the law reform group. Regarding the dualistic system, the Government had made strong efforts to ensure that Convention's provisions could counteract traditional practices that negatively impacted women. The new inheritance law, for example, brought rural women into parity with urban women in the area of property rights. The rule of law was a central pillar of policy in the country. Correspondingly, the national police force under the Justice Ministry had established women's protection units in all 15 counties.

The death penalty had not been used since 1980, the delegates said, but armed robbery had presented serious problems for the country and the death penalty had been reinstated as part of the legal mechanisms to fight it. The country was working with international advisors to consider how else the problem could be dealt with.

Concerning the Convention's dissemination, its provisions were now being put into the kind of simple English that everyone in the country could understand. The Convention and Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) had already empowered women to a large extent. Women had been instrumental in rebuilding the country, and formal programmes for literacy were being instituted to encourage that trend. Support to rape victims was also being strengthened, along with efforts to properly collect evidence, and awareness was being built so that women felt more confident to report incidences of the crime.

Experts' Comments and Questions

VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, asked about the staffing needs of the gender Ministry, expressing concern over its current capacity. She asked why the drafting of the National Gender Policy had been slow, and if deadlines, along with monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, had been incorporated into the draft policy.

Country Response

The delegation said that much progress had been achieved in building gender-equality capacity since the report was submitted. They described country-wide staffing that was aggressively moving ahead. The National Gender Policy was also making progress in a way that incorporated all mechanisms needed for the implementation of the Convention. The slow pace of the drafting of that policy was due to the difficulties of recruiting qualified personnel.

Experts' Comments and Questions

Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from Netherlands, said that temporary special measures had already been applied in Liberia in the form of quotas for women's representation, but those had not been effective since they were not backed by law. He asked if there were plans to strengthen those measures in order to increase women's representation.

Country Response

The delegation said it did not know the prospects for such measures, but the gender Ministry would work hard to engage the legislature to increase women's participation. She welcomed suggestions on how to increase the effectiveness of its advocacy in that area.

Experts' Comments and Questions

Committee Chairperson, NAELA MOHAMED GABR, expert from Egypt, said there were references in the country report to women accused of being witches and subjected to female genital mutilation. Why was there no law in place to criminalize female genital mutilation? Why wasn't Liberia making use of international mechanisms to end that harmful practice?

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, noted that measures to end discriminatory practices and beliefs that forced women into subservient roles had not been given the same weight and priority as institutional economic and social measures to empower women. That should change. What was being done to train teachers, most of whom were men, to implement the Ministry of Gender and Development's education policies and programmes aimed at broadening girls' access to education?

ZOHRA RASEKH, expert from Afghanistan, noted that the Government's efforts to combat female genital mutilation were weak. It must pass legislation to criminalize it and sanction offenders. What steps were being made to change the attitude of the authorities so that they recognized that as a problem? What was being done to end forced marriages of girls as young as 14 years old?

FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, asked about Government plans to enact a law to erase and condemn female genital mutilation? The report said 44 per cent of women over the age of 20 had experienced violence in their lifetime in Liberia and 22 per cent of women had experienced violence in the past year. Were there plans to enact a law to address all forms of gender-based violence? Were "trials by ordeal", or forcing people to confess to crimes, still occurring? If so, what was being done to end them?

DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked if female genital mutilation and gender-based violence were priorities to be addressed by the Law Reform Commission. Those issues must be tackled with the same boldness used to take on other issues facing women in Liberia.

Country Response

Ms. GAYFLOR said "trial by ordeal" was criminalized. Liberian women held leadership posts today. The President was a woman, as were many chiefs. Liberian women and girls, including in rural areas, were no longer accepting of subservience as they were in the past, and were challenging the status quo. The Minister of Education was in the process of revising school textbooks to erase traditional gender stereotypes. Women were increasingly involved in previously male-dominated fields, such as palm weaving. The country was setting up clubs to implement Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), on women, peace and security.

She acknowledged that female genital mutilation was still a problem. The Government intended to use the Convention as an advocacy tool to do the right thing and develop a plan of action. Women lawyers were trying to get information from Ghana and Sierra Leone, which had adopted laws and action plans to address female genital mutilation and other gender-based violence, in order to replicate those efforts in Liberia. The Government, and non-governmental organizations in the country, had launched education programmes to inform girls and women about the harmful practice.

Another delegate said the Government was challenging deep-seated beliefs and cultural practices. In the past, scholarships for and entrance to certain academic programmes, such as medical and engineering school, were reserved for men; women had been expected to pursue traditionally female-dominated professions, such as nursing and teaching. The Government had the political will to open traditionally male-dominated areas to women and it was in the process of doing so. Regarding female genital mutilation, he said the value of that practice was diminishing, as Western education was introduced in the country. It was a matter of sensitizing and educating the people, not just legislation.

Another delegate said the 2003 Inheritance Law gave women the right to own property. Laws had been expanded to include all forms of rape, including marital rape, making it easier for women to leave abusive relationships. The growing number of female law graduates made more women qualified to interview witnesses, collect evidence and prosecute cases. There was increasing awareness among the Government, the Female Lawyers Association and non-governmental organizations about gender-based violence. Each of the country's 15 counties had a Women and Children Protection Unit that handled gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation.

Experts' Comments and Questions

SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, said that little information on trafficking was included in the report and she asked what the definition of human trafficking was in the anti-trafficking act of 2005, and, in addition, what the penalties were, especially for offenders who were officials. She also asked if the related action plan had actually been put into effect and if the two related ministries envisaged more active prosecution of cases.

She noted that prostitution was illegal, but that it was nonetheless being practiced. She asked what kinds of services were available for women and girls who wanted to avoid or stop prostitution and how effective they were.

Ms. RASEKH, expert from Afghanistan, also asked about efforts to end trafficking and prostitution and the lack of arrests of traffickers. She sought more information about cross-border efforts to deal with those issues and about measures to end the impunity of perpetrators of violence against women.

Country Response

The delegation acknowledged that human trafficking was a serious problem in Liberia, although it did not have the details of its definition in law. Officials were subjected to legal sanctions if they participated in it. Delegates explained that the lack of prosecutions for the activity resulted from the recent war and the newness of machinery that had been instituted, which was still being built up. Bilateral agreements were also being developed to address illicit trafficking of persons and drugs.

There was no impunity for those crimes or violence against women, the delegation continued; when people were caught they were prosecuted. As had been mentioned, there was still a need to build awareness on reporting and capacity for prosecution. That was being done. There were mobile prosecution units, for example, and an ad hoc central adoption authority had been established to fight trafficking in children, among other things. Thirty-six children had been rescued from traffickers recently, showing that strides had been made, but suggestions on augmenting such programmes were welcome.

There were safe houses for women victims of domestic violence, they said. Most were in the capital, Monrovia, but others were in the counties. There was also some financial support available for victims. A project to help adolescent girls support themselves and stay out of prostitution had just started. There was a similar project for public accountability for corporations that could increase opportunities for those girls.

Experts' Comments and Questions

Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, and Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, followed up on previous questions, asking for details about the Liberian Human Rights Commission and on the reasons the Convention could not be published. She also asked about the nature of the Government's collaboration with non-governmental organizations.

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, said that strong political will was needed to fight female genital mutilation, which she said was a clear crime that should be outlawed in compliance with the Convention.

Ms. CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, said that the trafficking law should be subjected to the scrutiny of the legal reform group. She asked about the training of social workers and psychologists who dealt with prostitutes and victims of trafficking. Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, followed up on questions about the legal framework for the provisions of the Convention and the finalization of the national gender policy.

RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, asked for information on the courts dedicated to prosecuting gender-based violence. She also asked what happened to women when they chose to make their complaints before traditional courts.

Ms. AMELINE, expert from France, asked about the reintegration of women who had been associated with the forces involved in the recent conflict. Ms. ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, asked what kind of rehabilitation and psychosocial counselling existed for other women affected by the conflict, such as so-called "bush wives" of combatants. Ms. RASEKH, expert from Afghanistan, asked about the prosecution of the perpetrators who had been responsible for massive crimes against women.

SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked if there were plans to rebuild the courts and prisons in the counties, which she heard were in a state of shambles, keeping in mind a gender perspective.

Country Response

The delegation said that the job of the Human Rights Commission was to ensure the implementation of human rights treaties. There was currently a working group looking at the dual legal system and suggesting ways to harmonize legislation, particularly local laws, with the provisions of those treaties. There were specific laws dealing with corrupt officials.

Domestic violence was frowned upon and prosecution of violators was taken seriously, the delegates said, reiterating some of the practical steps that had been taken in that area. More courts were being established around the country to deal with a greater volume of cases. There were now lawyers qualified to prosecute gender-based crimes, as well as the police units that had been mentioned. Cases had indeed been brought to court; the low volume was due to the challenges already mentioned. The practice of "magistrates-sitting" was being instituted to try to handle the backlog of cases in all areas.

As far as bringing to justice the major perpetrators from the conflict, they said that former President Charles Taylor's trial did not bear on Liberia, because he was being tried for crimes committed in Sierra Leone. A truth and reconciliation commission had been set up, but was now the subject of debate within the country. However, the procedures that had been set up must be followed. In addition, reparations for women victims were still being discussed.

Regarding reintegration of women associated with the fighting forces, they said that the formal reintegration programmes had recently ended, without providing adequate benefits to those women. That situation was now being reviewed.

They assured the experts that female genital mutilation was a major issue, and said that they were committed to improving the situation. In addition, the prevalence of rape was now the subject of serious work. It was a problem that had arisen during and after the conflict, so new strategies had to be developed to deal with it. In many areas, policies were just now being developed, and they were being looked at from a gender perspective. Non-governmental organizations were critical partners in all areas, and cooperation was encouraged to help the Government identify the gaps.

Experts' Comments and Questions

Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, asked if the Fairness Bill provided for enforcing the quota of having women account for 30 per cent of political party candidates. Did the Government intend to put in place mechanisms to collect data on women's participation in politics and political parties?

Country Response

Ms. GAYFLOR said that if the Fairness Bill entered into law, it would include provisions for sanctioning political parties that failed to comply with the quota. Regarding data collection, she had just discussed with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) ways to set up a data collection process, which would be used as an advocacy tool.

Experts' Comments and Questions

Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked if a Liberian woman lost the right to pass on her nationality to her child if its father was a foreign man.

Country Response

A delegate said that in Liberia's patriarchal society the child took on the nationality of the father if it was born on foreign soil.

Experts' Comments and Questions

Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, said that that was discriminatory, and the fact that Liberia was a patriarchal society was no justification for it.

BARBARA EVELYN BAILEY, expert from Jamaica, asked the delegation to comment on the Government's proposed solutions to end gender-based violence, which seemed to lack a sense of urgency. Who was benefiting from school scholarships? How many of them were being given to women?

Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked about the Government's plans to increase gender equality in education and improve girls' enrolment in secondary schools?

Country Response

A delegate said most data used in the report had been collected in the past year. The educational system varied among regions. The data used was a sampling of certain areas only. Data for 2009, once compiled, would be more comprehensive. To remedy the lack of high schools in remote areas, the Government had adopted a plan to enable girls to live in hostels while attending high schools elsewhere. The Government had built 115 primary schools and five secondary schools, greatly helping to increase girls' enrolment in rural areas. Regarding sexual harassment in schools, reported cases had been investigated and offenders had received punishments, including suspension without pay for five years, or indefinitely, depending on the seriousness of the offence.

Continuing, he said the Ministry of Education had a regular adult literacy programme in many counties, as well as a literacy programme specifically for women, which emphasized skills training, and provided microcredit for graduates to set up businesses. On the expulsion of pregnant girls from schools, that was often the result of peer pressure. To remedy that, the Government had set up evening classes for them during the pregnancy and encouraged them to return to their regular school after giving birth. The 2007-2008 census on the education system, the country's most comprehensive data on education to date, would soon be published. Scholarships were being offered to girls to attend local high schools, but there was no quantified data on the number issued. The primary school enrolment rate was 60 per cent for boys and 40 per cent for girls, in 2004-2005, and 55 per cent for boys and 45 per cent for girls, in 2007-2008.

Another delegate said rural women had increasingly enrolled in literacy programmes. The Government aimed to ensure them that all women could write their own names by the 2011 elections, and it had launched massive nationwide literacy programmes.

Experts' Comments and Questions

NIKLAS BRUUN, expert from Finland, said Liberia had ratified International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 111. Did it plan to ratify the ILO convention on equal work for equal pay? Liberia had ratified the ILO convention on child labour. What was the situation of child labour in the country and what was the Government doing to end it, particularly among girls? How was it combating sexual harassment in the workplace?

PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, commended the Liberian President for launching the National Employment Strategy in 2006, which had created more than 83,000 jobs. But why had only a small fraction of the jobs gone to women? Did the Government envisage enactment of a labour code that would guarantee equal work for equal pay? Was there a mechanism to enable women entrepreneurs to contribute to policies and programmes of economic ministries and financial institutions? What efforts were under way to eliminate discriminatory practices against women in the private sector, including dismissal from their jobs? What was being done to promote higher participation of women in highly skilled jobs? A code of conduct in the workplace was not enough. Were there legally-binding provisions in place to address sexual harassment in the workplace?

Country Response

Ms. GAYFLOR said each Government ministry had a gender focal point that addressed issues in accordance with the Beijing Platform for Action. Regarding combating child labour, she said a plan of action was created. The Government had set up a task force to ensure that children were not on the streets selling wares when they should be in school. The Technical Committee of the Joint Economic Empowerment Programme assisted women in business. A task force was studying the status and situation of women working on plantations. Community leaders were being engaged in that regard. In rural construction, the Government had been encouraging women's employment, and it had employed gender advisors.

Women were entitled to maternity leave, she said. Many of them preferred to return to work after giving birth and leave their children in the care of relatives. In general, pregnant women were not being discriminated against in the workplace or denied maternity leave. Regarding equal work for equal pay, the Constitutional review process would address that issue. As part of the civil service reform process, the Government was looking at ways to address sexual harassment.

Another delegate said the Government had made great strides to ensure equal work for equal pay. The legislature had drafted a decent work bill that addressed gender pay issues. There was no gender pay discrimination. Complaints could be addressed to the nationwide network of labour inspectors.

Experts' Comments and Questions

XIAOQIAO ZOU, expert from China, asked how the Government cooperated with non-governmental organizations to make sure they followed its policies on health care. Given the fact that they provided such a large portion of health services, she asked also if the country was prepared for a phase-out of their presence. Had any goals or benchmarks been laid out to lower maternal and infant mortality rates, and what actions and monitoring methods were being planned to meet those goals? She also sought clarification on the abortion laws, and asked whether many women had died, owing to illegal abortions. Finally, she asked whether men were using contraceptives.

Ms. RASEKH, expert from Afghanistan, asked what kind of investment was being made to meet women's great health-care needs in rural areas, in both the long- and short-term. She noted some of Liberia's customary practices that were harmful to women's health, such as the preference for sons, taboos on foods eaten by women, and scarring and tattooing, and asked how the issue was being dealt with. She also asked about the rate of suicide among women in Liberia and the level of access of Liberian women to mental health care, given the widespread trauma experienced by women during and after the conflict.

Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked what kinds of plans were being made to meet the health needs of adolescents, along with access to sexual education and the distribution of contraceptives, which could lower the rate of dangerous abortions.

Country Response

Non-governmental organizations had provided around 80 per cent of health services prior to 2006, but the Government was setting up mechanisms to transfer services to it Government, the delegation explained. It was estimated that it would take 10 to 15 years for the Government to develop the necessary capacities to completely take over health care, which was one reason why continued international assistance was necessary. There was now a strategy to map out every pregnant woman in every community and target services for each one. She described the administrative procedures and monitoring methods that were meant to assure that health policies were carried out. Maternal mortality remained high because women often preferred to give birth in traditional circumstances. For that reason, traditional midwives were being trained.

Abortion was illegal, the delegates said, and a study in the Monrovia area showed that abortion contributed 35 per cent to maternal deaths. Providers could be prosecuted if there were no mitigating circumstances. However, all laws were being reviewed and there was much discussion of the issue of abortion and others which might discriminate against women.

Sex education and family planning services, which were free, were being expanded as part of the effort to reduce abortions, they said. Male condoms were widely available and surgical options were being promoted, but were not widely chosen. There were some health programmes that targeted adolescents, but a lot more needed to be done. Reproductive services for young girls were being instituted as part of a larger youth services plan, much of which was funded by the World Bank.

A recent study showed that access to health facilities now stood at about 66 per cent across the country, the delegation said. The basic national health plan would continue to expand as the country's situation improved. The Ministry of Health just finished a mental health policy, and its plan would include women's mental health. Suicide was very rare.

Experts' Comments and Questions

SOLEDAD MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, said that given the fact that there was a woman President in Liberia, there was no doubt that women would have a large part in the country's future. However, there were still large problems with marriage arrangements and women's rights to land ownership when they returned from displacement. Ninety per cent of persons working in agriculture were women, yet there was little mention of women in materials put out by the agricultural Ministry. Access to credit was important for those women.

Country Response

The delegation said that it was very interested in the land reform process and intended to make sure gender perspectives were integrated into that process. Rural women were being given support in the form of tools, seeds, credit, training and access to markets in various projects that were presently being carried out. Agricultural extension workers were going to the localities to help with those efforts. In addition, under economic empowerment programmes, women's economic activities in all sectors were being assisted. Gender budgeting for all those areas was being worked out so that if international assistance was withdrawn, the funding requirements would be known.

Experts' Comments and Questions

Ms. ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, asked what percentage of eligible women was benefiting from the assistance that had been described. She also asked about projects to provide access to clean drinking water and efforts to provide health care to elderly and disabled women. What was being done to keep girl students in schools, given the fact that early marriage and forced marriage was a problem in Liberia?

Country Response

The delegation said that assistance was targeted towards all women in rural areas, from the bottom up, and the Government was encouraging rural women to reach out to each other as well. Therefore, a very large percentage of women should be benefiting from the assistance programmes. In addition, programmes had been put in place to increase access to clean water. The elderly and disabled, like everyone else in Liberia, were eligible for health services. There was a school for the blind, but educational services in general were inadequate for persons with disabilities. Planning, to cover that gap, was ongoing. An early education programme had been established, and day-care centres had been provided by non-governmental organizations administering market-assistance programmes.

Experts' Comments and Questions

YOKO HAYASHI, expert from Japan, said she worried that family law was not being properly scrutinized because there was very little information on it in the report. She asked about the prevalence of customary marriage, as well as the number of underage girls that were forced to marry. She also asked how the new rape law was being publicized.

Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, and Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, asked additional questions about marriage and divorce law. The latter asked about property and inheritance rights under both formal and customary marriages.

Country Response

Remedies for problems in both kinds of marriages could be sought in the courts, the delegation said, and both kinds of marriages were susceptible to the same grounds for divorce. Girls and boys both enjoyed the same inheritance rights; lack of support was criminalized.

In closing remarks, the head of the delegation thanked Committee members for their support and reaffirmed that the Government was committed to making progress in women's equality, adding that the collaboration with the women's Committee was just the beginning.

SOURCE: ReliefWeb

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DATE: 03/08/2009

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