12 July 2004
Womens Anti-Discrimination Committee Considers Report of Bangladesh; Experts Focus on Legal Structure, Eliminating Violence against Women
Countrys Representative, Presenting Fifth Report, Describes Broad Range of Political, Economic, Educational Advances
NEW YORK, 9 July (UN Headquarters) -- Members of the Womens Anti-discrimination Committee today stressed that Bangladeshs achievements, such as having women in the countrys highest political office for a considerable period of time, should be used as a positive foundation on which to build further legislation and policies to ensure the protection and promotion of womens human rights, as they considered the situation of women in that country.
Acting in their personal capacities, the Committees 23 expert members monitor compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Bangladesh ratified the Convention, with several reservations, in 1984. In 2000, Bangladesh was one of the first 10 countries to ratify the Conventions Optional Protocol, which allows individual women or groups of women to petition the Committee.
During the article-by-article consideration of Bangladeshs compliance with the Convention, many experts expressed concern that the country continued to operate with a legal structure in which the constitution and legislation fell short of incorporating the principles of the Convention. Two areas were of particular concern: the fact that the constitution did not contain a definition of discrimination in full compliance with the Convention; and the status of the implementation of laws on violence against women.
The Committee stressed the need for more rigorous attempts to eliminate violence against women. In a society where culture and society overlooked or justified violence against women, comprehensive and well-balanced approaches needed to be found to combat that scourge. Having too strong punishment often mean no punishment at all. The death penalty for perpetrators could be deterring women from coming forward. The Government was encouraged to adopt a comprehensive law on violence against women, as it would send a powerful message to society at large and demonstrate the Governments political will.
Personal laws that allowed for inequality, experts agreed, not only contravened the constitution, but also went against the grain of the Convention. Violations of womens human rights could not be justified in the name of respect for religion. It was the Governments obligation to find a creative solution to ensure that laws relating to marital relations did not contravene the Conventions fundamental provisions.
Experts expressed the hope that the remaining reservations to the Convention would soon be withdrawn. The expert from Algeria said the time had come to lift the reservation to article 2, which was the very heart of the Convention. Doing so would open the door for the total implementation of the Convention and would serve as an example to other countries. As nearly 20 years had passed since Bangladeshs ratification of the Convention, not removing the reservation would signal a lack of commitment, experts agreed.
Introducing her countrys report, Khurshid Zahan Haque, Minister for Women and Children Affairs, said her Government had increased budgetary allocations in the social sector, largely benefiting women. It had invested heavily in womens education. As a result of financial assistance, girls enrolment in primary schools had increased dramatically, brought about parity and decreased drop-out rates. Women were also increasingly being integrated into the economic mainstream in Bangladesh. Innovative, home-grown ideas like microcredit had immensely facilitated their empowerment.
In addition, her Government promoted the participation of women in the political arena, she said. Women had succeeded as both Prime Minister and leader of the opposition in the general elections in 1991, 1996 and 2001. Also, the number of reserved seats in the national Parliament had been increased to 45 from 30 through a constitutional amendment.
Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, Bangladeshs Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, said his country was on the cusp of great changes. Described just three decades ago as a basket case from a development point of view, it had come a long way since then. Change in any society, however, must come from within and could not be imposed. Bangladesh had largely relied on its own intellectual resources and had drawn upon its ancient and rich cultural heritage, leading to the efflorescence of homegrown innovative ideas, such as microcredit and non-formal education.
Also participating in Bangladeshs delegation was Md. Mortuza Hossain Munshi, Secretary in Charge, Ministry of Women and Childrens Affairs; S.M. Jahrul Islam, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs; Md. Lutfor Rahman Chowdhury, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Affairs; Mu. Asahabur Rahman, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Education; Ferdous Ara Begum, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Women and Childrens Affairs; Ismat Jahan, Director-General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Nasreen Begum, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs; Masuda Hossain, Chairman, Jatio Mohila Sangstha (National Women Council); and Surat Zaman, Private Secretary to the Minister, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs.
The delegation also included Shamima Nargis, Senior Assistant Secretary, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs; Mahmuda Islam, Project Coordinator, PLAGE, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs; Nurun Nahar Begum, Senior Assistant Chief, PLAGE, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs; Samina Naz, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of Bangladesh to the United Nations in New York; Sigma Huda, President, Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association; and Salma Ali, Executive Director, Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association.
The Committee will meet again at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, 12 July, to take up the combined initial, second and third periodic report of Angola.
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