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Committee on the elimination of Discrimination against Women considers Ethiopia’s Report

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The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the eighth periodic report of Ethiopia on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Hilary Gbedemah, Committee Chairperson, said that the delegation of Ethiopia was unable to come to Geneva due to costs and would engage in the dialogue via video conference.

Yoseph Kassaye, Deputy Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, reiterated the commitment and readiness of Ethiopia to engage constructively with the Committee.

A member of the delegation introduced the report on behalf of Semegn Wube, State Minister, Ministry of Women, Children and Youth of Ethiopia, noting that the dialogue was taking place at a time of remarkable reforms and progress in the country.  All political prisoners and detainees had been released and the law on civil society had been repealed.  The women’s development and change strategy focused on enhancing the participation of women in political, economic, cultural and social life, and the country had committed to eliminating child marriage by 2025.  The strategic plan for the elimination of violence against women and children was in place, as was the special investigative unit within the police to investigate crimes of gender-based violence, special sexual violence courts, and one stop service centres for victims of violence.  Despite all the efforts and investments, deep rooted cultural values and traditions perpetuating gender stereotypes still prevailed and held women back.  Still, Ethiopia remained committed to the goals of gender equality and women’s advancement.

In the dialogue that followed, the Committee welcomed the progress that Ethiopia had made in advancing gender equality and women’s rights, the sharp increase in women’s participation in political and public life, gender parity in the cabinet, and the civil society organizations proclamation of 2019 which had widened the space for non-governmental organizations, including those working on women’s rights and gender equality.  Experts urged Ethiopia to review its laws from a gender perspective and adopt a comprehensive law on gender-based violence that would include all forms of violence against women, including gang rape, acid attacks, and marital rape.  Despite the legislation on countering gender stereotypes, women continued to suffer all forms of sexual and gender-based violence, and were victims of harmful traditional practices.  Of particular concern was the very high rate of child marriage which stood at 58 per cent.  Ethiopia had made important strides in reducing maternal mortality but regional disparities in access to health remained, Experts said.  They raised the issue of the high number of out-of-school refugee children, girls in particular, and gender-based violence in refugee camps.

In conclusion, Ethiopia thanked the Committee and said that additional information would be sent within 48 hours.

The Chair, in her concluding remarks, commended Ethiopia for its efforts and encouraged it to take measures to address the Committee’s concluding observations.

The delegation of Ethiopia consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education, Federal Attorney General, Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, and the Permanent Mission of Ethiopia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Ethiopia at the end of its seventy-second session on 8 March.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.

The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed athttp://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will reconvene on Friday, 22 February at 10 a.m. to hold a half-day general discussion on trafficking in women and girls in the context of global migration.  At 3 p.m., it will examine the report of Myanmar under the exceptional reporting procedure on the situation of Rohingya women and girls in northern Rakhine state (CEDAW/C/MMR/4-5/Add.1).

Report

The Committee is considering the eighth periodic report of Ethiopia (CEDAW/C/ETH/8).

Opening Remarks

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Chairperson, said that unfortunately, the delegation of Ethiopia was unable to come to Geneva due to costs and would engage in the dialogue via video conference.  The Chair thanked the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa for having made the necessary arrangements.

YOSEPH KASSAYE, Deputy Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the Ethiopian delegation could not come to Geneva, but would engage with the Committee via video conference from Addis Ababa.  This demonstrated both the commitment and readiness of Ethiopia to engage constructively and timely with the Committee and share the enormous work done and efforts made to implement its human rights obligations.

Presentation of the Report

A member of the delegation, speaking on behalf of SEMEGN WUBE, State Minister, Ministry of Women, Children and Youth of Ethiopia, remarked that the dialogue was taking place at a time of remarkable reforms and progress in terms of opening up of human rights and democratic space in the country, which benefitted women.  Ethiopia was one of the few countries in the world which had achieved gender parity in the cabinet, and women held the positions of Prime Minister and the President of the Supreme Court.  All political prisoners and detainees had been released, and for the first time in a long while, there were no detained journalists, while the restrictions on the right to freedom of expression had been lifted.  Major reforms were ongoing in the justice sector with the Legal Reform Council which had started the reform of the laws that had been criticized as severely restricting the civic and democratic space.  The law on civil society had already been repealed.  Ethiopia was a country in transition, therefore there were challenges, in particular the impact of the conflict and the displacement of large numbers of people across the country.  The Government was taking measures to support internally displaced persons, with a focus on the special needs of women and children.

Turning to the report, the delegate said that the women’s development and change strategy focused on enhancing the participation of women in political, economic, cultural and social life.  The national strategy on harmful traditional practices was based on three pillars of prevention, protection and provision of services and was focused on child marriage, female genital mutilation, and abduction.  Ethiopia had committed to eliminating child marriage by 2025 and had prepared a road map for the implementation of this goal 2019-2023.  A coordinating body for the implementation of the strategic plan for the elimination of violence against women and children was in place, and a special investigative unit within the police had been set up to investigate crimes of gender-based violence.  Child and women protection units had also been set up in the Office of the Prosecutor and the Office of the Attorney General.  Further, special sexual violence courts and one stop service centres were in place.

The Government had recognized the importance of the phenomenon of trafficking in persons and had passed proclamations which had introduced harsher punishment for traffickers and better protection of victims.  In order to increase the protection from human rights violations and exploitation of a large number of Ethiopian migrant domestic workers, the Government had signed bilateral agreements with several Middle Eastern countries.  A gender mainstreaming manual had been prepared and disseminated to all sectors of the Government to ensure that the concerns of women and children were reflected in policies and budget allocations.  Gender mechanisms and machinery existed at the federal, regional, and zonal levels, said the delegate, stressing in particular the cooperation and engagement with women’s groups which were instrumental in promoting and advancing the role of women.

Significant efforts invested over the years to increase the school enrolment of girls had resulted in gender parity in education, while special attention was being given to the phenomenon of school violence.  Commendable progress had already been made in improving maternal and reproductive health, including through door-to-door health promotion and community-based health insurance.  In terms of employment, the focus was on the provision of microfinance, support for income generation, and capacity-building for women and women’s groups, while maternity leave had been extended to four months in the public sector.  Women made up the majority of beneficiaries of social protection schemes.  Strategies to improve the lives of rural women aimed at integrating them into national socio-economic development.  Land was a critical issue for this group of women, therefore Ethiopia provided for the issuance of joint landholding certificates.  As for pastoralist women, the accent was on improving access to health, education, water and sanitation, and other basic services.

Despite all the efforts and investments, deep rooted cultural values and traditions perpetuating gender stereotypes still prevailed and held women back.  Gender disaggregated data was lacking and the national gender machinery suffered insufficient resources and capacity.  Nevertheless, Ethiopia remained committed to the goals of gender equality and women advancement, and welcomed the dialogue with the Committee.

Questions by Committee Experts 

Starting the interactive dialogue, a Committee Expert noted that gender equality was integrated in the Constitution; though specific laws prohibited gender-based discrimination, their implementation was an issue.  In 2018, Ethiopia had ratified the Maputo Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa with several reservations – what was the rationale behind the reservations and how was the Protocol being implemented?  Other obstacles to effective gender equality were certain forms of violence against women that had not been criminalized, including gang rape, acid attacks, and marital rape, while gender harassment was not yet defined.  Ethiopia ought to review the current laws from a gender perspective, the Expert said. 

The criminal justice policy of 2017 paved the way to protecting vulnerable groups – how was it being implemented and resourced?  The Ethiopian Human Right Commission had been criticized for its lack of impartiality and for failing to address human rights violations, in violation of its obligations under the Paris Principles.  What was the relationship between civil and traditional or religious courts?

The Committee commended Ethiopia on its impressive economic performance which had resulted in important gains in the reduction of poverty.  What steps were being taken to strengthen the anti-discrimination framework, especially its implementation, including through capacity-building of the courts?  What was the status of the 2015 strategy on free legal aid?

Replies by the Delegation 

Responding, the delegation explained that the reservations to the Maputo Protocol related mainly to the criminalization of marital rape, as Ethiopia considered that doing so would be a violation of its traditional norms and the sanctity of the family, and it was also hard to prove.  Another reservation concerned bigamy or polygamy.  As for gender harassment, sexism, and various forms of gender-based violence, the delegation recognized that the current laws indeed did not conform to the highest international standards.  Ethiopia was not resistant to revising its laws from a gender perspective.

Serious human rights violations, including arbitrary detention and detention for expressing opposing political views, had not been restricted to women only but had affected the population as a whole.  That was why one of the first things the new reformist Government had done was to release all political detainees.  The problem of arbitrary detention had not been an issue of legislation but of the political establishment.  Ethiopia had a clear legal and constitutional prohibition of arbitrary detention.  The new Government was working on re-establishing the commitment to constitutional values and human rights.

A review of the Ethiopian Human Right Commission was ongoing to address the recognized shortcomings, increase its independence and impartiality, and ensure that its recommendations were taken up by the relevant authorities.  Religious and customary courts covered issues related to marriage, divorce, inheritance, custody, and guardianship, but only if the parties voluntarily accepted its jurisdiction.  Training programmes were held for Sharia courts on the Constitution and the human rights of women.

A number of laws were currently being revised, including the criminal procedure law, to better take into account the special needs of women.  A special investigative unit within the police had been set up to investigate crimes of gender-based violence, and similar units had been established in the Office of the Prosecutor and the Office of the Attorney General, while judges had been trained on gender-sensitive administration of justice and combatting gender-based violence.  The Ethiopian Human Right Commission was working with law departments of several universities to augment access of women to free legal aid.

Questions by Committee Experts 

In the next round of questions, the Committee welcomed the progress in Ethiopia, evident in the elaboration of the national human rights development strategy 2016-2020, the national strategy for the empowerment and development of women, and the strategy on juvenile justice.  The adoption of the new civil society organizations proclamation of 2019 gave wider space for human rights civil society organizations, including those working on women’s rights and gender equality, including in refugee settings.

Were the current resources of the Ministry of Women, Children and Youthsufficient for its implementation and coordination mandate and what progress was being made in gender budgeting?  In 2013, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission had received B accreditation under the Paris Principles – what was the role of the Commission currently in the promotion and protection of women’s human rights in full compliance with the Paris Principles?

The Committee also congratulated Ethiopia for the sharp increase in women’s participation in political and public life, gender parity in the cabinet, and temporary special measures to accelerate the enrolment of women in education, particularly at the tertiary level.  The Constitution provided for affirmative action in public and private institutions, but a regulatory framework for the systematic implementation of this constitutional principle was lacking, and there was no engrained system for women’s appointment to executive and decision-making levels.

Ethiopia was currently revamping its institutions, and this represented an opportunity to truly integrate the two critical ideologies, that of the Sustainable Development Goals and women’s rights.  

Replies by the Delegation 

The delegation said that despite all challenges and shortcomings, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission had conducted a number of investigations into human rights violations over the past three years or so, and had established the responsibility of one or more Government departments, even if it was unable to see through the implementation of its recommendations.  With the ongoing reforms, the Commission had been put on a strong pedestal to enable it to be a driver of human rights protection across the country.  The Government was committed to allocating the necessary resources and was working very closely with the Commission.

The gender machinery structure was already in place, from the federal, regional, and other levels; another issue was how effective it was.  The Government was making regular budgetary allocations to the machinery.

YOSEPH KASSAYE, Deputy Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the Sustainable Development Goals were mainstreamed in Ethiopia’s five-year national development plan, the cycle of which was harmonized with the Sustainable Development Goals.  Mr. Kassaye said that the opening statement captured well the ongoing reforms in the country and supplemented the periodic report.

Questions by Committee Experts 

The Committee commended the recent progress and an increase in the representation of women in political and public life, noting that those were not the result of coincidence.  Despite the legislation on countering gender stereotypes, women continued to hold traditional roles in society, could not make decisions about their bodies and the number of children they had, suffered from all forms of sexual and gender-based violence, and were victims of harmful traditional practices.  The Committee was particularly concerned about the lack of a comprehensive law for protection from all forms of gender-based violence.

On trafficking in persons, the Experts asked about the status of the draft law currently before Parliament and inquired about the legislative framework covering internal trafficking in persons.  The situation of internally displaced persons and migrants deserved more attention, as did the issue of corruption in combatting trafficking in persons.

Replies by the Delegation 

The delegation agreed that women were facing many challenges in their day to day lives and in all sectors, and said that the Government was taking concerted steps to prevent gender-based violence, provide services and support to victims, and eliminate harmful traditional practices, which still widely prevailed in the society.  Ethiopia was committed to intensifying the efforts to combat child marriage, female genital mutilation, polygamy and other harmful traditional practices, with particular focus on raising awareness and consistently applying the legal framework.  Following the pledge to end child marriage by 2025, entered during a summit in London in 2015, a roadmap on child marriage and female genital mutilation had been developed.  The focus in the implementation was on pastoralist communities, where those practices were prevalent.

Ethiopia was also improving the comprehensive data collection and management systems and working with the two regions which currently did not have a family code to bring about the required legislation essential to upholding women’s rights.

A new proclamation on human trafficking and smuggling of migrants was being drafted.  Bilateral agreements on labour migration had been negotiated with three countries, and others were being negotiated, in addition, labour attaches had been appointed in Middle Eastern countries to strengthen the protection of the rights of Ethiopia’s migrant workers.

There were 13 shelters across the country providing services to survivors of gender-based violence and harmful traditional practices; these shelters also provided legal and judicial support.  Most were sponsored and operated by non-governmental organizations, and the Government was working on setting up its own shelters in areas of high prevalence of harmful traditional practices.  A national and multi-sectoral mechanism was in place for gender-based violence and sexual exploitation, resourced by the Government, and it contained a special investigation and prosecution unit.

Questions by Committee Experts 

The Committee remarked on the unprecedented and dramatic increase in the participation of women in public and private life, adding that Ethiopia now ranked eighteenth in terms of women’s representation in Parliament according to the International Parliamentary Union.  The participation of women in the legislative at all levels was crucial to tackling the issues of gender-based violence and discrimination against women, but was not matched by the number of women in civil service.

The delegation was asked about the implementation of national identity card proclamation and especially sanctioning fraud as a mean to prevent early and forced marriages, and to update the Committee on the status of ratification of the international instruments related to stateless persons.

Replies by the Delegation 

The delegation explained that women’s representation in the foreign service and at the international level had always received the Government’s attention.  Women made up 45 per cent of the staff of the foreign service, and there was a commitment to reach gender parity.

Women held 36 per cent of jobs in the civil service in 2016/17.  Women held 50 per cent of the positions in the cabinet.  Ethiopia was committed to increasing women’s leadership and was therefore implementing training and leadership programmes for young women – to date, 107 women from regional states had been trained.  Most government institutions were taking measures to empower women and ensure the representation of women in positions of leadership, also because of the domino effect that it had.

The existing electoral law and the one that was being drafted contained incentives for political parties to include at least 30 per cent of women on the ticket.  This should be seen in conjunction with the engagement of the Prime Minister along with all political parties, including those that had returned to the country following the cancellation of the list of terrorist organizations, in order to promote the message that women’s empowerment was indispensable for development.

Birth registration was compulsory within 90 days following the birth of a child.

Questions by Committee Experts 

Turning to education, the Committee commended the legislative and policy framework that advanced and progressed education of girls and asked when compulsory education would be enforced, whether it applied to non-nationals, the status of inclusion of children with disabilities, and hidden costs of education.  Noting with concern that the rate of child marriage was over 58 per cent and that it had a direct impact on the school attendance and completion rate of girls, the Expert asked how the strategy on the elimination of child marriage was linked with the education strategy and the involvement of teachers and parents.  

What was being done to support girls’ entry into training and education for non-traditional professions?  What was the status of the anti-sexual harassment policy under the education policy and what facilities were in place to ensure sage and dignified management of menstruation?  Could the delegation explain the application of reasonable accommodation in education? 

On health, the Committee welcomed the progress made, including in reducing maternal mortality rates, and an increase in resources allocated to health.  The concern remained about regional disparities in accessibility of health structures and the number of health staff available.  What was being done to overcome the scarcity of medical staff, particularly in rural areas, and increase access to contraceptive products and services?  Did qualified professionals carry out abortions?

Replies by the Delegation 

Under its education and training policy, Ethiopia was providing compulsory and free primary education and was advocating quality education for all its citizens.  Currently, 36 million children were enrolled in primary school, however the quality of education was still an issue.  A number of teacher training programmes had been put in place, as well as initiatives to increase the uptake of information and communication technology in education.  A gender responsive strategy in education had been developed to support, promote, and encourage the education of girls, and it was being implemented in 39,000 schools in the country.  Other measures had been put in place to attract and retain girls in schools, such as installing separate toilet facilities in schools or providing schools with feminine hygiene materials.  Gender-responsive pedagogy materials had been developed and were being used in primary and secondary schools.

Ethiopia had developed a strategy to promote inclusive education and support the integration of children with disabilities in mainstream schools.  This approach had been piloted in some schools and was now being scaled up.  Accessibility was being taken into account during the construction and renovation of school infrastructure. 

Turning to health, the delegation said that the ratio of physicians to the population was still below the standard set by the World Health Organization.  To address the problem, the Government had expanded medical schools, which now had the capacity to produce 3,000 medical doctors per year, and had strengthened the training capacity in regions for various medical technicians, including midwives.  A strong multi-sectoral approach had been developed to manage the HIV/AIDS epidemic and reduce the burden of disease, and Ethiopia had met its Millennium Development Goal 6 and had reversed the trends in incidence and prevalence of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.  The number of new HIV infections had been reduced by 81 per cent compared to 2000.

Ethiopia was devising a quality certification and capacity building scheme inreproductive health and family planning which would connect all the health centres in the country into one system.  Abortion accounted for 32 per cent of maternal morbidity and mortality in 2005 and less than 10 per cent today.  Important strides had been made in reducing adolescent mortality and morbidity as well, halved since 2000; the rates dropped from 4.6 per 100,000 population in 2000 to 2.7 per 100,000 population in 2016. 

The rates of teenage pregnancy had been only slightly reduced from 2000, from 16 per cent to 13 per cent in 2016.  Because the majority of teen pregnancies occurred in marriage, the new strategy for adolescent health aimed to empower married adolescent girls to plan their lives and make decisions about their bodies.  The strategy was for now being implemented in four big regions, and the data showed that 50 per cent of adolescent married girls had adopted contraceptive services.  The Ministry of Health was therefore planning to expand the strategy to other regions.  There were over 2,000 government-built youth centres which integrated a health centre and a medical advisor, and which would be increasingly integrated into health education promotion and outreach towards youth.

Questions by Committee Experts 

Another Committee Expert welcomed steps taken to improve the situation of women in employment, including the overseas employment proclamation, social protection strategy, and affirmative action for the employment of women.  What specific mechanisms were in place to expand maternity protection and childcare facilities in the private sector and address some of the negative fallout that had followed very positive measures taken towards gender equality in employment? 

Replies by the Delegation 

The delegation explained that the proclamation on civil servants had extended maternity leave to four months, provided for the equal pay for equal work principle, and for the setting up of childcare facilities at the workplace that was open to all parents.  Different initiatives were in place to raise awareness about gender.  Labour inspectors operated at regional and federal levels and inspected all work places, including in the private sector, and sanctioned violators of the provisions of the civil servants’ proclamation, as well as human rights violations.  

Eleven federal ministries and agencies had already opened day-care centresand others were in the process.  Efforts were ongoing to expand this provision into the private sector.

The social protection policy provided for access to the social protection system for all vulnerable categories, including women, and was different from social protection and social safety net programmes linked to the workplace.

Questions by Committee Experts 

An Expert asked about microcredits dispersed under the social protection strategy and about measures and mechanisms in place to increase women’s access to various financial instruments, such as bank loans, credits, etc.  What steps had been taken to assist women in the informal sector and what social benefits could they access?

Another Expert remarked that women’s property rights were threatened by joint land certification and asked how women could lodge complaints concerning their land rights.  What percentage of the national budget was allocated for the empowerment and advancement of rural women, including through access to services, and was a strategy for rural women in place?  Commending the comprehensive support provided to people affected by natural disasters, the Expert asked the Government about the coordination of disaster responses and whether gender perspectives were included in the strategy and policy.  The Expert raised concern about the large number of out-of-school refugee children, girls in particular, and gender-based violence in refugee camps.  

Replies by the Delegation 

The Government had put in place a national microcredit strategy and more than 13 million women had been able to access various community-based microfinance schemes over the past several years.  In the 2017/18 period, six million women had taken part in training on women’s economic empowerment and entrepreneurship.  Over the past seven years, the number of women affiliated to cooperatives had increased from one to six million; it was important to note that those cooperatives also offered banking and financial services and facilities.  The Government was aware of the importance of women’s land rights and some strides in guaranteeing that right were being made through the ongoing land certification process.

Following a number of complaints, the Government had suspended the operation of gold mines and it was undertaking a health and environmental assessment under the leadership of the Ministry of Health and in collaboration with Colombia University and Canada.   Ethiopia had an adequate legal framework to ensure the accountability of the company, the payment of compensation, and the removal of toxic waste.  The Government had demonstrated its commitment to preserving the health of the population by its recent closure of 12 tanneries until they complied with standards and cleaned up their toxic waste.

Ethiopia was committed to ensuring justice for past human rights violations and gender-based violence, in detention facilities or elsewhere, and making certain that victims received adequate compensation and redress.  All perpetrators of violations had been arrested and justice processes were ongoing.

Following the recent proclamation on refugees, they were no longer constrained to live in refugee camps but could integrate in local communities.  Ethiopia provided free primary education for all refugees.  Prior to entry into force of the new proclamation, there had been 58 primary schools in 27 refugee camps.

Questions by Committee Experts 

In the final round of questions, the delegation was asked about the mechanisms for the implementation of the family law in regions that had adopted it, efforts to raise awareness among women about their rights, and measures to ensure the adoption of the family law in the two regions that still did not have it.  What was being done to raise the age of marriage to 18 under all circumstances and to expressly prohibit bigamy and polygamy?

Replies by the Delegation 

The delegation said that Ethiopia accorded high importance to protecting the family.  The federal family law, which was aligned with international standards, had been extended to all regions except two, which was due to cultural and religious diversity.  The Government was working with those regions on developing their own family codes, which had already been drafted.  The legal framework protected the family at all times, including in divorce, and the family court had been established, supported by social workers who operated on the principle of the best interest of the child.  Various agencies and sectors were actively promoting and informing women on their rights, including on marriage, divorce and property rights.

The requirements for the emancipation of a person in relation to marriage under the age of 18 were very strict and the permission had to be granted by the Attorney General.  The use of the provision was very scant and had not been used in 10 years.

One reservation to the Maputo Protocol had been entered because Ethiopia deemed that the concept of marital rape distorted the sanctity of marriage and the integrity of the family.  The second reservation concerned the provisions on bigamy and polygamy.

Concluding Remarks

The delegation thanked the Committee and said that additional information would be sent within 48 hours.

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, thanked the delegation and invited Ethiopia to accept the amendment to article 20, paragraph 1, of the Convention concerning the Committee’s meeting time.  The Chair commended Ethiopia for its efforts and encouraged it to take measures to address the Committee’s concluding observations.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG).
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