17 January 1996
ABORTION-RELATED DEATHS IN PARAGUAY AMONG ISSUES EXAMINED BY COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN 19960117
The high death rate of young women in Paraguay from illegal abortion was examined this morning by experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, as it considered that country's initial and second periodic reports. The 23-member expert body monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
One expert expressed concern at the fact that, according to the reports of Paraguay, 23 out of every 100 deaths of young women in the country resulted from illegal abortion. Experts called for an assessment of the health impact of abortion laws and requested more information on the number of prosecutions for abortion.
Concern was also expressed at the incidence of venereal disease in adolescent girls, and steps to combat AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases were urged. Experts also insisted that violence against women be seen as a social health issue.
The reports of Paraguay were introduced by the country's Minister of the Secretariat for Women, Cristina Munoz. She said that a civilian Government had been established several years ago and since then a new Constitution had been adopted, as well as provisions on equality between men and women. While from a legal standpoint there was no discrimination against women in Paraguay, there were a number of obstacles when it came to the exercise and enjoyment of their rights.
She said that, at present, the Secretariat for Women, which was initiated in 1993, was working on gender sensitization and implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women. By the end of 1996, the Government should be able to incorporate provisions of the Convention into national legislation. There could be no responsible economic and social development in Paraguay without the full participation of women, and no true democracy without equal opportunity for women, she stressed.
Paraguay will respond to the comments and questions of Committee members on Tuesday afternoon, 23 January.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 18 January, to consider the initial and second periodic reports of Iceland.
Committee Work Programme
This morning the Committee is scheduled to begin consideration of the initial and second periodic reports of Paraguay (CEDAW/C/PAR/1-2, CEDAW/C/PAR/1-2/Add.1, and CEDAW/C/PAR/1-2/Add.2).
The reports state that Paraguay ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in November 1986. However, it was not until the democratization process began in February 1989 that Paraguay's women's organizations began to secure a response to their demands for equality.
Following the ratification of the Convention, Paraguay ratified the International Convention on the Political Rights of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) concerning women's rights. In June 1992, a National Constituent Assembly gave Paraguay a new National Constitution, which contains explicit provisions on equality between the sexes, stating "men and women have equal civil, political, social and cultural rights". The Constitution contains provisions on maternity leave and also mandates leave for fathers.
The labour code provides for women's health and safety during pregnancy, as well as nursing and also for maternity leave, according to the reports. It states that women may not be dismissed during pregnancy or maternity leave, rather during those periods they receive full remuneration. The code also prescribes the organization of day nurseries in enterprises.
The reports states that in early 1990, Paraguay began a process of ratifying specific international instruments on women and human rights in general. Between 1990 and 1995, laws were adopted to decriminalize adultery, establish identical divorce rights and obligations for both spouses, extend equal rights to men and women for all commercial acts and matrimonial relations, establish identical rights for parents over their children, protect labour rights for women, and punish violence against women. However, the report says that despite a body of law on equality between the sexes, disparities remain in certain branches of the law, especially the penal system. As of November 1995, there was no special law regulating and penalizing family violence.
According to the reports, the creation in 1992 of the Office of the Secretary of State for Women and the start-up of its operations in 1993 constituted "the most important action taken by the State with respect to women". The mandate of the Office is to encourage the active participation of women in political, cultural, family, labour and social life within the framework of the Convention, and to promote and implement policies. The Office is an organ of the Presidency and the holder has the rank of Minister. Since its establishment, the Secretary of State for Women has begun a process
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of ensuring that women's interests are taken into account in governmental policies. It has maintained a strong working relationship with the Paraguayan Women's Coordinating Committee, which consists of 14 non-governmental organizations and has the goal to achieve equality before the law.
The reports state that almost equal numbers of boys and girls have been attending primary and secondary schools in the past decade, but there is a slight majority of males in the universities. However, six of every 10 illiterate persons are women.
While the maternal death rate has fallen over the past 10 years, 23 out of 100 deaths are by abortion, with Paraguay having one of the highest rates in the region, according to the report.
According to the report, the structures of discrimination remain solid in the areas of economics and politics. Farm women are excluded from labour statistics and urban and rural domestic work is disregarded. Women receive lower pay than men for equal work. In the current five-year period in the metropolitan area of Asuncion, women have been paid at only two thirds the rate of men. According to the 1992 census, the percentage of women in the economically active population was 22.1, three times lower than the figure for men.
Female participation in parliament stands at 7 per cent in the upper chamber and 5 per cent in the lower chamber and their participation at the ministerial level stands at 7 per cent. Women hold 14 per cent of the posts in the administrations of political parties but still none of the principal ones.
The reports state that the need to eliminate stereotypes and cultural patterns that discriminate against women has gained prominence in the social, cultural and political areas of Paraguayan life. The greatest effort to eliminate gender stereotyping is that being made by the Office of the Secretary of State for Women and non-governmental women's organizations through the communications media. In addition, the Educational Reform Commission has introduced corrective measures in teaching methods in the preparation of educational materials.
While some progress has been made, the reports say there is very little investment in women. Between 1994 and 1995 it was around 0.6 per cent of the national budget. Investment in research into women's questions is a novelty, being conducted almost exclusively by women and in most cases financed by international organizations.
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Introduction of Paraguay Reports
CRISTINA MUNOZ, Minister of the Secretariat for Women, Paraguay, introducing the combined initial and second periodic reports of that country, said important legal and political changes had taken place recently on the status of women.
With the establishment of a civilian government several years ago, a new Constitution as well as provisions on equality between men and women had been adopted, she said. Also, several international instruments on human rights had been incorporated into national legislation. At present, the Secretariat for Women, which was initiated in 1993, was working on gender sensitization and implementation of the tenets of the Beijing Platform for Action. By 1996, she said, the Government of Paraguay should be able to incorporate provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women into national legislation.
The Government "has to live with certain disparities while we enjoy certain successes of women", she continued. Although Paraguay did not have specific provisions concerning discrimination of women, the Constitution recognized the rights of all citizens, stating that "all inhabitants are equal under the law". From a legal standpoint, there was no discrimination; however, there were a number of obstacles to the exercise and enjoyment of rights.
Regarding the protection of maternity rights, she said the State recognized the right of all persons to decide freely the number and spacing of children and to receive education and services.
On measures to change socio-cultural behaviours, she said the Secretariat for Women had focused efforts on public awareness campaigns with the media. A 1994 national plan against violence against women, carried out by an inter-ministerial commission, had been promoting a number of educational plans. Training for public health workers and police had been incorporated at its initial stage. Efforts were not being made to train and enhance the awareness of court personnel. A national programme had also been established for equal opportunity for women in jobs and education.
She said there were provisions to help women prostitutes to cope with violence. Community education had begun and results could be seen. There was also a national AIDS prevention programme.
One of the most visible changes in the last five years, she said, was the participation of women in politics. At the ministerial level, there were 7 per cent women; a bill to establish minimum participation quotas was currently before the Parliament. An action programme to train potential women
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candidates for municipal posts was included in the budget for 1996. Three of the five political parties had certain quotas for the participation of women.
The Constitution gave women citizenship on an equal footing with men, she went on. One high priority had been to reform the educational system to reinforce the rights of women. Changes had been attained under the programme for equal opportunity for women. Girls were not leaving school as early as in the past. There was now parity between men and women in training for higher- level careers. However, the rate of illiteracy stood at 23 per cent for women, as opposed to 19 per cent for men.
By law, certain rules had been laid down to avoid discrimination, she said. The right to work was an inalienable right. The Ministry of Labour and Justice was enhancing efforts to engage women in professional training.
The Government was also undertaking programmes to address the problems of rural women. However, most institutions still had sex segregation. The Secretariat for Women had examined a modernization plan of rural development areas in order to incorporate a gender perspective. Forty-nine per cent of the requests for housing were for women, and 27 per cent of the total housing given was for single mothers.
In Paraguay, gender perspective was still rare in development plans, she said. The Government had recently focused on the problems of rural women in various programmes. While, there were no legal limits for women in obtaining credit or loans, institutions preferred to give loans to men. However, there had been an improvement in the granting of loans to women for micro- enterprises.
In conclusion, she said no responsible development could be achieved in Paraguay without the full participation of women, nor would there be true democracy without equal opportunity for women.
Discussion of Report
On article 2, under which States parties agreed to adopt laws prohibiting discrimination, an expert wanted to know how the Minister of Secretariat for the Women's Office was connected to the President's Office. She wondered if the women's municipal offices in Paraguay were functioning on a legal basis.
On article 4, which states that temporary measures taken to accelerate women's equality shall not be considered discriminatory, an expert wanted to know if the national machinery had any plans to increase women's political participation, especially in the case of rural women. She asked if there was
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a plan to combat violence against women. Also, she wondered about protection of rights of women working in the informal sector.
Speaking on articles 5 and 6, which require the elimination of practices based on superiority or inferiority of either sex and which require States parties to suppress the traffic in women, an expert said information about article 5 ought to be more widely distributed because it was not adequately known. With regard to the plan dealing with prevention of violence against women, she wanted to know if the relevant norms in the penal code had been amended and added that the Committee ought to recommend that those norms be amended.
The expert also expressed concern about divergent punishments prescribed for rape of married and unmarried women. The laws on kidnapping and rape seemed to be vague. Experts voiced concern at the lack of specific legislation on prostitution. They questioned if the police had been authorized to round up women who they believed to be engaged in prostitution. Concern was expressed at violence and corruption in the police force with respect to its dealings with suspected prostitutes.
More than 58 per cent of prostitutes in cities were below 18, the experts said. They wondered about the number of people imprisoned for leading girls into prostitution. Question were asked about the Government's policies on the rehabilitation of prostitutes.
On article 7, which calls for equality between the sexes in the political life of the country, experts encouraged reform of the electoral code. They urged a minimum quota to encourage the participation of women in the parliament.
Regarding article 10, which calls for equal rights in education, an expert expressed surprise at the Minister's statement that there had been no discrimination in education. She also wondered about the number of school drop-outs.
On article 11, which calls for the elimination of discrimination in employment, an expert expressed concern about the pay gap between men and women. She wondered if there was any minimum wage, especially for domestic employees.
Concerning article 12, which calls for the elimination of discrimination in health care, experts said Paraguay had the third highest mother-infant mortality rate and wondered if anything was being done to correct the situation. Concern was also expressed at the number of deaths from abortion, which was illegal in the country. Experts also called on the Government to control the spread of venereal disease and AIDS.
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Also speaking on article 12, an expert asked if evidence of children in child abuse cases was inadmissible in Paraguay's courts. Questions were also raised about the rights of children born out of wedlock.
On article 14, which takes into account the rights of rural women, an expert said the Committee would like to know about the efforts of rural people to gain access to land.
Regarding article 15, which says women are equal to men before the law, an expert wanted to know if legal equality between men and women had been achieved in Paraguay and whether women were allowed to serve in the military.
Speaking on article 16, which calls for equality of women in marriage and family relations, an expert wondered if women had an equal right to own and administer property.
On article 18, under which States parties were required to submit reports to the Committee, an expert wanted to know about rights of individuals living in "shared living" upon the breakdown of the family and wondered about the definition of the term.
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