Mixed findings on progress for women

A recent report by a UN Committee on Women has concluded that while conditions for women have improved in some countries, overall, global discrimination against women is worsening.

by Murtaza Mandli-Yadav

THE United Nations has issued a mixed report on progress by member states in eliminating discrimination and prejudices against women throughout the world.

The UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), while conceding that conditions for women have improved in some countries, says that overall, global discrimination is worsening. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women is the world's most comprehensive, legally binding treaty on women's human rights.

But 'progress is not satisfactory', the committee's chairwoman Salma Khan told reporters at the UN.

In a study of eight nations - Slovakia, Panama, South Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria, Peru, South Korea and New Zealand - the committee found improvements in each country to break down barriers against women.

The positive trends included, in the case of South Africa, the repealing of all discriminatory laws aimed against women and, in the case of Panama and Peru, the removal of gender-stereotyping in education, the committee said.

The report's findings reflected greater awareness of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and there has been some progress in women's representation in decision-making positions, but a lot more still needs to be done, Khan said.

'Women continue to be subject to persistent discrimination in education, employment, health and nationality,' the report said. 'Violence against women and sexual exploitation remain serious problems, despite government efforts to address the issue.'

Khan said that there had been 'an increase in trafficking of women especially from Latin American countries to Europe and from Eastern Europe'.

Trafficking in women

In its report to the committee, Slovakia expressed concern at an increase in trafficking in women, a drastic rise in domestic violence and the fact that unemployment was higher among women even though they still receive lower pay than men. Still, Slovakia has enacted new legislation to regulate prostitution,and there have been local and national efforts to combat trafficking, and the overall life expectancy of women has increased.

In Panama, women do not occupy prominent political positions, do not have access to social security, and abortions are only permitted in cases of danger to woman's life, the committee reported. Requests for abortion due to rape or incest were still denied. Panama, however, has passed legislation making violence against women and children a criminal offence and has impressively increased education, it said.

While South Africa had many problems concerning women, the government had taken steps to solve them by repealing all discriminatory laws. The country's new Constitution ensures specific provisions for gender equality, affirmative action and freedom and security.

' In cases where domestic legislation conflicts with customary law, Constitutional supremacy prevails,' said Hanna Beate Schopp-Schopp-Schilling, a CEDAW committee member.

Tanzania, Nigeria, Peru and South Korea all saw improvements in conditions of women's access to employment, introduction to skill-building programmes, and strengthening of reporting and response systems. Although these positive trends showed progress, the committee expressed concern at continued evidence in these countries of female genital mutilation, the battering of wives and defilement of young girls.

'Violence, poverty, economics and gender stereotypes are some of the problems that still affect women,' said Miriam Estrada, a CEDAW committee member. 'We need to diffuse the Convention at all levels.'

By far the best performance has been by New Zealand, said the committee. Even though there has been a lack of State support for maternity leave and a 'disturbing level of pay inequality and lack of affirmative action in the workplace', women in New Zealand still fare better than their sisters in other countries. There are domestic violence prevention programmes in place in schools, 30% of all members of Parliament are women and there has been an increase in the number of women serving in diplomatic posts. New Zealand also has 'forward-looking laws on division of property after divorce'. -  [c] Inter Press Service, (Third World Resurgence No. 97, September 1998)