18 August 2006
Strong Efforts Needed to Translate Legal Equality into Effective Exercise of Women's Rights in Mexico, Anti-Discrimination Committee Told
Committee Experts Focus on Continued Violence against Women, Question of National versus State Jurisdiction, Impunity for Violent Offenders
NEW YORK, 17 August (UN Headquarters) -- While Mexico had taken numerous legislative measures to combat discrimination, a "male-focused interpretation of the law" continued to prevail, and strong efforts were needed to translate the formal legal equality into an effective exercise of Mexican women's rights, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was told this morning during consideration of Mexico's sixth periodic report.
Introducing the report on behalf of a 30-member delegation was Patricia Espinosa, Head of the National Institute for Women of Mexico. The 23 members of the Committee, acting in their personal capacity, review reports by Governments to monitor their compliance with the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which is often hailed as a women's international bill of rights. Mexico's report was one of two taken up today in parallel meetings, a format introduced this year to facilitate consideration of country reports.
Ms. Espinosa said Mexico now had a law and a federal council for the prevention and elimination of discrimination against women, as well as a national programme and an agreement for equality and against discrimination. The Women's National Institute had been upgraded to a ministerial level and institutional advances at the national level were reflected in the legislation of all 32 Mexican states. The national programme for advancing women's equality had been the road map for a coordinated network of policies and projects had been introduced into 20 federal institutions, including 10 State ministries, with 124 gender indicators on recruitment, wages, functions and sexual harassment, among others.
Experts, however, extensively questioned the continued violence against women, including murder, despite the strong commitment of the Government to deal with the problem. They touched on alleged collusion of law enforcement officials and the mandate of a new federal prosecutor, as related to crimes that had been determined to remain under state jurisdiction. What would be done about impunity and how would Mexico deal with the autonomy of its states as a federation, while honouring its national obligations on human rights?
Members of the delegation noted the significant work being carried out for the training of magistrates, judges and others in the judicial system, and for raising awareness about using international instruments as the basis for legal decisions and in the vigorous investigation of abuses. But they said violence against women was the most terrible and persistent form of discrimination, and the solution involved changing social and cultural behaviours over the long term.
In addition, delegation members said, a very complex legal situation was involved, and the notorious killings in Ciudad Juarez of Chihuahua state were a case in point. A Special Prosecutor had been appointed; a commission had been established; and a special office for the investigation of those murders had reported 32 women killed in 2005 from blows to the head, gunshots, strangling, stabbing and trauma.
A programme to ensure prosecution of offenders had so far led to four individuals being accused of torture and abuse of rights, they continued. A review of case files in 150 previous murder investigations had then led to the criminal and administrative investigation of some 170 Chihuahua state public officials for negligence, omission and other related offences. Local courts had decided that the statute of limitation had run out in many of those cases. To fight impunity, federal authorities had asked the Inter-American Court on Human Rights to evaluate those decisions. Mexico's Supreme Court would consider the case once an advisory opinion was received.
This was the first time in the history of Mexico that people were being tried for violence against women, members of the delegation concluded, adding that international standards for dealing with mistreated women were not yet being applied. They said the lack of access to justice was related to the negative cultural stereotype that gave women less importance than men, and the male-centred patriarchal system.
That stereotype, the Mexico's delegates explained, led to corresponding behaviours, such as violence against women. Those cultural factors presented more of an obstacle than legal barriers in the involvement of women in political life at the municipal level. They led to a discriminatory culture in the Government machinery, in political parties, trade unions and other social organizations. They fostered resistance to allowing women to gain positions of power, and avenues of recourse were slow to open, since the law providing for them had only been passed this year.
In the end, experts requested more information in Mexico's next report on the results of the numerous programmes the Government was developing and implementing. They also asked for more information on the growing problems of trafficking, prostitution and child pornography, and on what was being done to address gaps in legislation at the federal and state levels. For example, only 13 of 32 states had statutes that made human trafficking a crime. What happened in the other states, and how was the imbalance in legislative safeguards handled, including in situations of internal trafficking?
Participating in the exchange today were Committee experts Rosario Manalo from the Philippines, the Committee Chairperson; Magalys Arocha Dominguez of Cuba; Meriem Belmihoub-Zerdani of Algeria; Mary Shanthi Dairiam of Malaysia; Cees Flinterman of the Netherlands; Naela Gabr of Egypt; Salma Khan of Bangladesh; Tiziana Maiolo of Italy; Pramila Patten of Mauritius; Victoria Popescu of Romania; Maria Regina Tavares da Silva of Portugal; and Heisoo Shin of the Republic of Korea.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Friday, 18 August, when it is expected to take up the report of Cape Verde.
The Committee had before it Mexico's sixth periodic report (document CEDAW/C/MEX/6), prepared by the National Institute for Women, which was formed in 2001 and is the lead agency in charge of legal, social, economic and family policies relating to women. All policies, programmes and actions described in the report fall under the Federal Government's nine-point road map on gender issues, known as the National Programme for Equality of Opportunities and Non-Discrimination against Women (Proequidad), which legally forms part of the National Development Plan for 2001-2006. Progress is tracked in nine areas: institutionalization, human rights, economic development, poverty, education, health, violence, decision-making and, finally, culture, sport and media.
The report begins with the Government's response to recommendations by the Committee on a wide range of subjects, made at the time of Mexico's fifth report in 2002. Among others, those recommendations centred on: the need for a timetable in monitoring and evaluating progress and the importance of enacting laws to criminalize and punish domestic violence; giving priority to women in poverty eradication strategies; combating trafficking and exploitation of women and girls; prohibiting discrimination of women in the workplace; increasing the number of women in decision-making posts; and guaranteeing access to reproductive and sexual health services among adolescents.
According to the report, the Institute prepared a Guide on Incorporation of the Gender Perspective in Federal Civil Service Offices and Agencies, using it to evaluate the progress of several ministries, including the Ministries of Labour and Social Security, Public Education and Health, as well as the Department of Agrarian Reform. In 2003, the Institute also monitored over 70 operational rules of federal programmes and conducted an in-depth analysis of 25 of those, resulting in gender- and age-disaggregated data being introduced in the 2004 Federal Expenditure Budget.
Gender-mainstreaming activities of the Environment and Natural Resources Ministry and of the Social Development Ministry were also analyzed, but by agencies other than the National Institute, using their own procedural guides. Also evaluated was the "Oportunidades" programme, which is a major social programme since 2002, dealing with affirmative action to improve the status of women and promote development among those living in extreme poverty. The programme targets permanency in school, the right to health and food, access to education for adults, access to income-generating projects and action to combat rights-violating practices.
With regard to violence against women, the report states that, as of October 2005, 28 out of 32 states in Mexico had introduced sanctions against domestic violence, with 27 calling it a criminal offence. In 21 states, the Civil Code considered domestic violence as grounds for divorce, and spousal rape was a crime under 13 criminal codes. Shelters, help lines and assistance networks had been set up for victims, and Government agencies had conducted awareness-raising activities with the public, coupled with training programmes and seminars for persons responsible for law enforcement, and assistance to victims of violence.
In its report, the Government also reports on actions to counter the feminization of poverty, with a focus on women in rural and indigenous areas, as well as on sustainable development. Steps had also been taken to combat trafficking in persons, through regional cooperation, training, legislation and involvement of all relevant sectors, including civil society and international organizations. Measures had also been taken to address the causes of trafficking, including by taking poverty-alleviating actions, strengthening women's economic impact and guaranteeing the recognition and exercise of their rights. Bilateral and multilateral agreements had also been concluded with receiving countries. The framework had been reinforced for institutional and inter-agency activities. The federal labour law had been amended to prohibit discrimination against women and promote their genuine equality with men.
Among many other actions, the report continues, the Government has taken measures to: increase the number of women in decision-making posts at all levels; adopt and implement priority measures to ensure the health of adolescents; compile data indicating the evolving impact of programmes; take into account the gender dimension in international human rights instruments; and disseminate information on the steps taken to promote gender equality.
The report outlines progress made in implementing the Convention in the required format of addressing articles in succession. An annex outlines actions taken to prevent and eradicate violence against women in Ciudad Juarez, and appendices provide detailed statistical support for the text.
Introduction of Report
Patricia Espinosa Torres, Head of the National Institute for Women of Mexico, introduced the report.
Other participants in the 30-member delegation included Juan Manuel Gomez Robledo and Jennifer Feller of the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations; Hipolito Trevino Lecea and Raul Cueto of the National Institute of Migration; Xochitl Galvez, Maria Antonieta Gallart Nocetti and Cristina Henriquez Bremen of the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples; Sylvia Ortega Salazar of the Federal Educational and Public Educational Services; Elvia Diaz de Leon, Federal Judicial Advisor; Martin de la Rosa Medellin of the National Institute for Social Development; Maria Guadalupe Morfin and Teresita Gomez de Leon del Rio of the Commission for the Prevention and Eradication of Violence against Women for Juarez; and Laura Gurza, General Coordinator of Civil Protection.
Additional members of Mexico's delegation were Patricia Uribe and Aurora del Rio Zolezzi of the Ministry of Health; Luz Maria Garcia Rivas and Maria Oswelia Garcia Torano Rosas Priego of the Ministry of Public Affairs; Elizardo Rannauro Melgarejo of the Ministry of External Affairs; Alma Clarisa Rico, Velvet Maria Torres Escuadra and Lorena Rosalba Martinez Verduzco of the Ministry of Social Work; Roberto Ortiz of Indujeres; Jose Nemecio Lugo Felix; Blanca Judith Diaz Delgado; and Rosalinda Morales.
Also representing the National Institute for Women were Patricia Wohlers Erchiga, Alejandra Parrodi, Jose Miguel Pardo and Irma Perez Puente.
Ms. ESPINOSA began with a review of progress made in the six years that the currently outgoing Administration had been in office. She said all efforts to apply the Convention had also been in line with strategies laid out in the Beijing Platform and by the Millennium Development Goals. Mexico's Constitution had been amended in 2001 to comply with international instruments to include a guarantee of non-discrimination as a right before the State, private persons and entities. Now, secondary laws must not only prohibit discrimination, but must also consider affirmative action in broadening individual capacities and access to the benefits of development.
During the term of the present Administration, a law and a federal council for the prevention and elimination of discrimination had been established, she said. There was also a National Program and an Agreement for Equality and Against Discrimination. The Women's National Institute had been upgraded to a ministerial level. Parallel institutional advances were reflected in all 32 states of Mexico. The National Programme for advancing women's equality, known as "Proequidad", had been used as the road map, resulting in a coordination network for policies and projects that had been introduced into 20 federal institutions, including 10 State ministries, with 124 gender indicators related to recruitment, wages, functions, promotions and training, day care for children, and sexual harassment, among other things.
The creation of those indicators, she said, was in line with the National Development Plan, which emphasized the creation of a "culture of evaluation" aimed at improving public policy performance, efficiency and the achievement of goals, particularly regarding the needs of the poorest. Thus, the indicators were generated, appraised and incorporated into sustainable social development policies, making systemized use of newly generated statistics. Special attention had been given to understanding the reality and magnitude of violence against women and improving the educational programme, so that, by 2004, over 83 per cent of women and 74 per cent of men finished secondary school studies, while 90 per cent of women and 88 per cent of men finished elementary school.
Mexico had a historical, ethical and moral debt to its indigenous populations, she said, and a national commission had been established to address the special concerns of those groups. In 2005, a strategy for indigenous development had been implemented for the 50 municipalities with the lowest development indicators, where the indigenous population represented 92 per cent of the population. A fundamental tenet of that strategy was an intercultural bilingual approach.
She outlined steps taken to develop intervention models in the context of the New Labour Culture to achieve progress in areas such as addressing the causes of feminine segregation or promoting legislative reforms towards gender equality. Conceding that idiosyncratic stereotypes of women as inferior continued to prevail in Mexico's male-centred culture and its patriarchal tradition, she said the educational arena had been a major focus for eliminating such stereotypes and transforming their associated behavioural patterns. With access to education now fundamental, the principles for gender equality, non-discrimination and respect for difference had been incorporated into updated teacher programmes and in textbooks, to begin addressing the situation at the preschool level. Media campaigns had also been launched to focus on breaking down the stereotypes, emphasizing women's right to make choices concerning their lives and promoting awareness about human rights, gender violence and, most recently, sexual harassment.
Also by historical tradition and structural composition, she said, Mexico generated migration and was a transit point for migrants. The dynamics behind that situation were complex, and social structures reinforced the fact that half of all illegal immigrants to the United States were Mexican, and half of those were women. Numerous measures had been introduced to address that situation and that of trafficking in persons. Letters of understanding had been signed with the United States and with regional neighbours such as Guatemala and El Salvador. Mexico had also signed the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol on trafficking in persons. National measures had been taken at the legislative and structural levels.
Overall, she said that, while formal legal equality was yet to translate into the effective exercise of the right to due process and to that of access to fair and swift justice for Mexican women, the acknowledgment had now been made that a male-focused interpretation of the law still prevailed and constituted one of the large historical debts towards women, with the State needing to apply and implement strong efforts in that regard. Significant work was being carried out for the training of magistrates, judges and others in the judicial system, and for raising their awareness about using international instruments as the basis for legal decisions. Abuses were being vigorously investigated.
Aside from being a public-health issue and one of security, justice and human rights, she said violence against women was the most terrible and persistent forms of discrimination and exclusion. Its solution was one of the greatest challenges and demanded the commitment of both Government and society. It involved changing social and cultural behaviours that could not be transformed in the short term. Mexico's efforts centred on creating institutions that progressively achieved progress. Those included a national inter-institutional board on family violence and a national programme for life without violence. The result so far was that 28 of 32 states in Mexico now had laws to prevent and punish family violence. The Supreme Court had also upheld a decision that would form the basis for a legal framework, in which marital rape could be considered a crime. A framework law on violence was being elaborated to serve as model legislation to fill gaps in civil, penal and administrative laws and promote uniformity, including in public policies. A commission and a special attorney's office had been created to address the case of women murdered in Ciudad Juarez.
She said three decades had passed since the first International Women's Conference had been celebrated in Mexico. The women's agenda had undergone a qualitative development that was now being consolidated through inclusive and representative dialogue schemes, not only on a national level, but on the regional and international levels. That progress was part of an intense process of democratic consolidation to transform institutions and attain gender equality.
Those institutions, she said, were now in a position to address the remaining challenges in eliminating the discrimination that affected every aspect of life, and the inequality between men and women that prevented the full development of democracy and which required co-responsibility between the Government and civil society, and the active participation of citizens. Those challenges included the achievement of even greater quality in the educational system and its linkage to the labour market; transformation of cultural practices; restructuring of the prevention system; consolidating the harmonizing of federal and local legal frameworks; ensuring justice for women; and incorporating women into decision-making positions.
Expressing their appreciation for the Government's commitment to the implementation of the Convention, the experts, in the opening round of questions, sought further information on: the country's legal measures to eliminate discrimination against women; the national machinery and the national plan for the advancement of women; and the status of the Convention in national legislation. Questions were also asked regarding the incorporation of gender indicators in Mexico's development and poverty-eradication plans, the budgetary provisions for gender equality measures, collection of sex-disaggregated data, the situation of rural and indigenous women, and special temporary measures to accelerate the achievement of de facto equality between men and women.
An expert stressed that it was up to the federal Government of Mexico to monitor the implementation of the Convention in all states of Mexico. However, in its report, the Government noted that various discriminatory practices still existed, and some discriminatory laws had still not been repealed in various states. What was being done to rectify that situation? He asked what measures had been taken to ensure states' and municipalities' compliance with federal laws. Were there any cases when the Convention had been directly invoked in judicial practice within the country?
A wide range of programmes and initiatives had been launched and numerous institutional entities had been put in place in Mexico, another expert said, congratulating the country for setting up a network of various mechanisms at federal, state and municipal levels. However, there was a danger of fragmentation of efforts, and it was important to ensure continuity and unification of measures at all levels. She also asked if an assessment of the programmes under implementation had been undertaken, and commented on the use of term "equity" versus "equality" in the country's report, stressing that there was a substantive difference between the two.
Among the remaining challenges, the Government had listed women's underrepresentation at decision-making levels, a member of the Committee said. Were any temporary special measures in place to address those difficulties? The term "affirmative action" was used in the report, but some of the efforts presented in the document were not really special temporary measures. She encouraged the Government to use the Committee's general recommendation on the matter to clarify the issue. She wondered if the National Council for the Prevention of Discrimination (CONAPRED), described in the report as "a governing body to promote policies and measures aimed at contributing to cultural and social development and guaranteeing the right to equality", was an institution responsible for monitoring and implementing special temporary measures.
Responding to those queries, a member of the delegation said that federal laws acted as a sort of "umbrella" for the whole country, but every state was sovereign, with its own government, able to adopt its own laws, as well. However, local law could not contravene federal legislation, so reviews were undertaken, and there were sanctions for non-compliance under the law. The federal authorities were working to promote the elimination of all discriminatory provisions at the local level, and there was enormous political will at all levels. During the current Administration's term of office, 13 coordinating meetings had been held to avoid fragmentation, and the State sought the implementation of the newly adopted gender-equality law at all levels. Under that law, a coordinated set of institutions and mechanisms had been established in the country, with groups at the local level responsible for the implementation of relevant programmes.
In that connection, another member of the delegation added that Mexico's federal system envisioned a participatory planning process, which involved consultations to incorporate the proposals of the civil society and the private sector, as well as the views of local authorities. The gender aspect was incorporated in every programme initiated by the Government. For example, the newly launched habitat programme contained special modalities to meet the needs of women. Some 20 per cent of its budget had to be allocated to social programmes in favour of women. The programme also specifically addressed the situation of poor families. Special attention was also given to the area of Ciudad Juarez.
State authorities were evaluating the implementation of gender-related policies on the basis of regular reports received from various bodies, a country representative said. The National Development Plan and the poverty eradication plan had specific provisions seeking to eliminate gender disparities. With the gender perspective mainstreamed in most activities, over 20 per cent of the budget now related to gender-sensitive issues.
Many affirmative-action measures focused on the mechanisms to eliminate discrimination steadily, until equality was achieved, she continued. In a large country that lagged behind in many ways, those actions sought to reduce inequality. Disaggregated data was being collected in many fields. As for the use of the term "equity", she said that it had been the first term developed. The ultimate goal was equality, but the achievement of equity was the first step on the way towards that objective. While the country had not yet exceeded the 24 per cent number of female legislators, the Government was taking measures to improve women's representation through the electoral law. That piece of legislation was in the process of being reformed, to ensure not only a proper number of candidates, but also adequate actual representation of women.
Regarding the situation of indigenous women, a country representative said that indigenous peoples suffered the greatest poverty in the country, and Mexico's institutional reform had come from the struggle of the indigenous peoples themselves. Their needs were being met through inter-institutional cooperation, with the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous People coordinating the efforts. A total of $400 million had been allocated for indigenous peoples' needs, with measures taken to build roads and provide electricity and drinking water, for example. However, indigenous women still suffered significant discrimination as a result of negative customs and practices. Specific programmes were being initiated to address their situation, with some 100,000 women participating in a project, where support from the Government was provided in their own language.
Experts questioned extensively the continuation of violence against women, including murder, and the spread of the violence to new areas, even beyond Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua, despite the strong commitment of the Government to deal with the problem. One expert pointed to the alleged collusion of law enforcement officials. What was the mandate of the new Federal Prosecutor looking into those areas of violence? What power did she have, now that the proposal had been rejected to raise to the federal level those crimes normally under state jurisdiction? What would be done about the question of impunity regarding the commission of those crimes? Perhaps Mexico was a federal State with autonomous powers granted to its members, but that did not absolve it from national obligations.
Another expert questioned the scarcity of information on the results of the numerous programmes the Government was developing and implementing with regard to trafficking, prostitution and child pornography. For example, only 13 of 32 states had statutes that made human trafficking a crime. What happened in the other states, and how was that imbalance in legislative safeguards handled, including in situations of internal trafficking? What kinds of assistance and protection were available to victims who were often treated as criminals since they often were often caught under circumstances where other crimes were being perpetrated? Experts also asked for clarification about the alleged increase in child trafficking and pornography, and certain legal double standards regarding prostitution.
Responding, a Mexican representative said the primary challenge was to reduce the cultural stereotypes, and progress was being made, particularly with younger people, so that the future already looked promising in that regard. As noted in the report, numerous mechanisms were being implemented and campaigns were being conducted to address the problems of both stereotyping and the violence that went with that mind-set. Concerning the spread of violence in Ciudad Juarez and other areas, resources were being poured into understanding and analyzing the causes of the violence. Trafficking and immigration patterns were also being studied to identify organized and other forms of criminal involvement in trafficking, prostitution and child pornography.
Another country representative said that Mexico was dealing with a very complex legal situation as far as violence against women was concerned, but it intended to firmly address the problem. A high profile had been given to the newly established office of the Special Prosecutor, and an in-depth reform of the whole judicial apparatus had been undertaken in Chihuahua. Also, an integrated response had been initiated by the State regarding the killings of women in Ciudad Juarez, with a national commission established to address the matter. According to the information from the Special Office for the Investigation of Murders in Ciudad Juarez, 32 women had been murdered in 2005 from blows to the head, gunshots, strangling, stabbing and multiple trauma. A programme had been initiated to ensure prosecution of the offenders, provide services for victims and strengthen the social fabric in the state. As a result of the investigation, four individuals had been accused of torture and abuse of human rights, and several criminal cases had been reactivated. Several cases still awaited justice. Also, today, there was a protocol for immediate reaction by police authorities when women were reported missing.
Another member of the delegation said that the Special Prosecutor had the authority to prosecute any cases of violence against women and monitor local authorities' efforts to address the problem. Since the establishment of the Special Prosecutor's Office, in cooperation with local prosecutors, the Office sought to systematize information on all cases and locate women reported missing. Several abducted women had been found. Following a review of the case files of 150 previous murder investigations handled by the State Prosecutor's Office, the Special Prosecutor had concluded that there was probable cause for criminal and administrative investigations into more than 170 Chihuahua state public officials for negligence, omission and other related offences. While several local courts had decided that the statute of limitations had run out in many cases, to fight impunity, federal authorities had asked the Inter-American Court on Human Rights to evaluate those decisions. Once its advisory opinion was received, the Supreme Court of the country would consider the case.
Regarding several court cases, he said that, for the first time in the history of Mexico, people were being tried for violence against women, dealing with direct accusations from victims of violence. However, international parameters for dealing with mistreated women were not yet applied in the country. The lack of access to justice related to the negative cultural stereotypes, under which women were given less attention.
Regarding trafficking in women and children, several members of the delegation said concrete measures were being taken to address the situation. Clear guidelines had been elaborated on the matter, and a precise diagnosis had been made regarding the areas requiring attention, including the groups of organized crime that needed to be dismantled. The draft federal law on trafficking approved in December 2005 was now being reviewed by the Chamber of Deputies. The draft had provided a technical assessment to strengthen action on trafficking in women. Also, specific databases had been established. In 2005, over 1,300 trafficking cases had been investigated.
A delegation representative said that the National Institute of Migration, in cooperation with international partners, was developing a procedure to provide legal assistance to victims of trafficking. Following a review of the situation, information had been provided to the authorities, civil society and the population at risk. Work had also been done by state and federal institutions and non-governmental organizations. Training workshops for public officials had been organized in several states, and an international seminar had also been organized on the matter. A regional coalition against trafficking in women and children had held a workshop on the rule of law and trafficking in people, and the National Institute of Migration had provided information to 32 states on the victims of trafficking. Migration status had been given to several victims of labour trafficking, making it possible for them to stay in the country to initiate the legal proceedings.
The head of the delegation said the Government had adopted a national approach to violence against women. That phenomenon had both cultural and structural causes. While it might seem that Mexico was a violent country, many mechanisms had been put in place to address the problem. Statistics were being gathered to identify the areas requiring particular attention. A recent survey of 50,000 homes had shown a 47 per cent prevalence of violence against women, with emotional abuse being the most common form, followed by economic, physical and sexual forms of violence.
Much remained to be done, she continued. Eliminating violence would take time, but the efforts put in place were beginning to show results, especially following several public awareness campaigns. As a result of recent efforts, several arrests had been made, including the detention of 10 traffickers, 2 people accused of promoting child prostitution and 4 paedophiles. Under the programme entitled "Judging with the Gender Perspective", the Women's Convention had been invoked in several discrimination cases. Also in place was a transparency law, which obliged public officials to respond to society's concerns. A pilot programme had been launched in three tourist areas to eliminate sexual exploitation of children. Some 16 people had been brought to justice as a result of measures to monitor the Internet.
Several experts addressed the issue of women's participation in public and political life, expressing concern about the discriminatory culture in the Government machinery, political parties, trade unions and other social organizations, which fostered resistance to allowing women to accede to positions of power. While lauding the Government's efforts to increase the number of women in public life, an expert said that the prevalent male-oriented culture was also a sign of the lack of political will. Under those circumstances, it was important to target men and political leaders within the framework of the Government's awareness-raising campaigns. Monitoring mechanisms were also needed to apply the "beautiful principles" proclaimed in some programmes.
Another expert noted that, while some amendments to the federal code had brought about positive results in the past, the percentages of women's representation had not increased in recent years. Progress was not very visible as far as women's presence in governmental high-level posts and at the local level was concerned. According to the report, things "remained unchanged" in the Foreign Service. Restrictions were also imposed on women by the traditional role of women in the family. The present situation was not satisfactory, but with more women in decision-making, "quantity could bring quality".
The experts wanted to know what further measures were being envisioned in order to promote equality of participation in all sectors and overcome the discriminatory culture predominant in the country. A question was also asked about projects to empower indigenous women.
A country representative agreed that the country's progress in promoting women's participation depended on a cultural change. However, some progress had been made. In the elections that had just taken place, the number of female candidacies had reached 24 per cent. However, women's representation at the municipal level remained at 4 per cent. To overcome the male-oriented culture, coordinated work was needed in several areas, including education and labour.
Regarding the diplomatic corps, a member of the delegation said that 16 of 78 ambassadors were women, and 13 of those women had attained the status of head of mission. Promotion of eligible women was actively implemented.
Institutionalizing the mainstreaming of gender issues into all areas of the civil service system was also being pursued, a member of the delegation continued. However, to expedite success and ensure the sustainability of measures taken, the involvement of men needed to be facilitated. Indicators were being developed to assess the efficacy of measures and levels of implementation.
Another member of the delegation said that, at present, cultural factors more than legal barriers presented the main obstacles to women's involvement in political life at the municipal level. Today, there were indigenous women's groups and women's agricultural groups to help promote women's interests and pursue avenues of access to decision-making positions for them. Programmes were being implemented to assist women in overcoming obstacles to their advancement, for example in the areas of health and managing problems such as alcoholism. Avenues of recourse were also opening up in situations where rights were violated, although those efforts were still preliminary, since the law on equality had gone into effect only this year.
Returning to questions, experts asked about laws to protect the rights of women in the workplace, particularly with regard to birth-control monitoring and discrimination against pregnant women and nursing mothers. What steps were being taken by the Government to strengthen the labour inspectorate and to promote the entrance of women into the non-traditional work sector, particularly in the formal one? Experts also questioned the specific steps being taken to address poverty, and for statistical data to demonstrate the relative effectiveness of measures. What steps were being taken to monitor the effect of labour practices on women? Had studies been carried out to determine the impact of the Free Trade Agreement?
Further questions dealt with matters of health services and the insurance scheme. What kinds of barriers did women face in access to health coverage? What were the causes of maternal deaths, in addition to the already mentioned obstacle of transportation to health-care facilities? What were the challenges in providing access to reproductive health assistance? Why was the abortion rate so high and was access to contraceptives a problem? What safeguards were taken to provide safe abortions, particularly in cases of rape?
Stressing the importance of programmes for rural women, the experts wanted to know about the effectiveness of Government action to meet their needs. Poverty and poor social conditions in rural areas required more concerted efforts. Rural women should be considered not only beneficiaries, but agents of change, an expert said, stressing the need to increase their participation. Questions were also asked regarding the effects of free trade agreements on the women in the countryside, unemployment insurance and credit programmes for rural women, as well as the proposed amendments to the social welfare law.
Regarding the women's situation in the labour market, a member of the delegation said that the Government was working with industry representatives to improve women's working conditions. An agency was in place that provided free advice on women's labour rights. Inspections were carried out to assess the implementation of the labour law and monitor the conditions in the workplace. President Fox's Government provided social security coverage for women in the public sector. A saving scheme for retirement had been introduced, and a manual of good practices had been prepared. Among other initiatives, she also mentioned a programme that had been introduced to promote women's employment and educate them about their rights. Several amendments to the Labour Code were being discussed.
While more needed to be done to improve the situation of rural women, many microcredit programmes were in place, another member of the delegation said. All programmes introduced by the Government were under constant scrutiny. Also, an overall review of gender issues in social programmes had been carried out by the Government. A study of the impact of free trade agreements on rural women had been carried out, but she did not believe that those agreements had significant consequences for women. It was the issue of migration that required particular attention in that regard.
Poverty measurements were regularly carried out in the country, a speaker said. According to the available figures, the impact of poverty had been smaller in rural areas than in the cities. Some 16 million people had suffered from poverty in rural areas in 2000, but that figure had gone down to 10 million in 2004. Migration into urban areas had been increasing poverty in the cities.
On access to services, a country representative said that Mexico's social security system was fragmented. About 11 million people were not covered or partially covered by the country's social security system. For instance, women in the informal sector did not have social security. The "people's insurance" health programme covered some 8.5 million people, over 40 per cent of whom came from indigenous communities. It provided free care for women with the lowest income level and gave priority attention to families headed by women.
Efforts were also being made to reduce maternal mortality, the representative said. In the five years since the launching of the programme to address that problem, the rate of maternal mortality had fallen by about 19 per cent. At the same time, the country was trying to improve its statistics regarding maternal mortality, as, in the past, up to 50 per cent of maternal deaths had gone unreported.
According to the 2005 health survey, there was about 70 per cent coverage as far as access to reproductive health in rural areas was concerned, she continued. The Government needed to do more to close the gap between the urban and rural areas. It was not just an issue of access, but also of quality of care. For example, local midwives were not always a good alternative to hospital care. Teenage pregnancy remained a big problem, and there were plans to set up 86 special units for young mothers. Of course, abortion remained a problem, being the fifth cause of maternal deaths in the country. Efforts were being made to promote modern contraceptive methods to reduce the number of abortions.
Continuing, the Mexico delegation elaborated on the programme to introduce gender sensitivity into the educational system beginning at the preschool level. Measures included the distribution of upgraded textbooks free of charge and the ongoing training of teachers.
In the area of legislation, a delegate said the "life free of violence" law was now going through the process of enactment. A law on the killing of girl children was also being formulated.
Addressing a range of other questions, the delegation said the major problem in providing a free access to abortion centred on the lack of clarity at the hospital level over a women's right to make decisions about abortion. The minimum wage law did not distinguish between men and women, and penalties were imposed on employers who violated that law.
On the Convention's provisions concerning marriage and family, an expert noted that the age of marriage in many states of Mexico was 16. What was being done to comply with the international standard of an 18-year minimum for marriage? On the question of marital rape, an expert noted that a judicial decree would not suffice to take care of the problem. What was the Government's position on amending the Criminal Code to include marital rape as an offence? Clarification was also requested on a law requiring a 36-hour wait for visitation rights in some child custody cases. Was there a family court in Mexico?
Responding, Mexico's representative said the national position was for the minimum legal age of 18 years of age for marriage. An impediment to amending the Criminal Code on the issue of marital rape was the imposition of a marital duty in the legislation of some states. As in the case of statutes providing for a year's delay in remarriage after divorce, the statute applied equally to both men and women. With regard to custody of children, the basic legal position was to award custody to both parents. The only way to lose that right to custody was through a court decision, which of course introduced many complications into custody arrangements.
Overall, a delegate summarized, gender mainstreaming had helped promote women's rights the most. In the area of the most recent case laws to come down, for example, gender had been allowed to be introduced as a factor in consideration of cases.
Several experts also made follow-up comments following the debate. On violence against women, an expert focused on the issue of the rape and sexual assault that had taken place against female detainees at the beginning of May in San Salvador Atenco, Mexico. From the country's response, she had got an impression that such actions could be justified by consideration for national security. While denied, the allegations by Amnesty International -- a credible source -- deserved to be investigated.
Another expert commented on the fact that the delegation had referred to gender equality as equality of opportunities this morning. However, the Convention was not only about opportunities, but also about equality of results. She also recommended that the Government should consider holding a public forum on gender-related issues after receiving the Committee's concluding remarks.
Also addressed was the issue of presentation of information to the Committee and gathering of statistical data.
The head of the delegation assured the Committee that the concept of equality of results was understood in Mexico. The country was also concerned about collecting accurate data. In its next report, it would try to provide the information requested.
Thanking the experts for their comments and suggestions, she said that, while a lot remained to be done, the Government was aware of the challenges ahead. The current Administration would conclude its term of office in three months, and she was sure that the next Administration would continue to improve the situation of women (and include men in its efforts).
Another member of the delegation said there was hardly anybody in Mexico who did not lament what had happened in San Salvador Atenco at the beginning of May. The authorities did not approve or support what had happened. The Public Prosecutor was working with other governmental bodies to address that issue.
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