14 January 2004
Process of Womens Empowerment Well Under Way, Anti-Discrimination Committee Told, as It Considers Nepals Report
But Experts Say Women Have Long Road Ahead in Overcoming Discriminatory Laws, Customs
NEW YORK, 13 January (UN Headquarters) -- Despite the ratification, without reservations, of the Womens Convention and the primacy of international treaty obligations over domestic legislation, Nepalese women still had a long road ahead in overcoming the countrys internal conflict and numerous discriminatory laws and customs, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was told today as it took up Nepals report.
The Committees 23 experts, acting in their personal capacities, monitor compliance with the Convention, which is often described as an international bill of rights for women. Nepal ratified the Convention in 1991, 10 years after its entry into force in 1981.
Introducing Nepals report, Renu Kumari Yadav, the Minister of State for Women, Children and Social Welfare, acknowledged that, like any society, Nepalese society was not problem-free and its achievements may not be up to the expectation. Overall, however, the process of womens socio-economic empowerment was well under way. No longer were gender issues the primary concerns only of a few early pioneers. Step by step, gender issues were being integrated into development policies, and consensus was building among development partners about the need to place women high on the national agenda.
During the day-long discussion, experts, while praising Nepals delegation for its frank description of the obstacles facing Nepalese women, also expressed frustration that many of the countrys legal provisions, even those that had been amended, were still discriminatory. Particular attention was drawn to early marriage, polygamy, domestic violence, high illiteracy rates, especially among rural women, poor health care, discriminatory citizenship and land ownership rights, and deeply rooted patriarchal norms and values that were, in themselves, unfavourable to women.
In a closing statement, the Committee Chairperson, Ayse Feride Acar, said that, given the precedence of the Convention over Nepals domestic legislation, there was no reason why some very significant steps could not be taken to eliminate that blatantly discriminatory legislation against women. Some specific changes could be ensured, even in the absence of Parliament.
The citizenship law, in particular, required serious attention, she said. The fact that it did not give the same rights to women nationals of Nepal as it did to its men nationals in passing on citizenship to their offspring flew in the face of the Convention, and some urgent action was required. While war and conflict appeared to have affected the Conventions implementation, efforts to include women in the peace process would yield double dividends -- both as an input into the success of the peace efforts and as a means to empower women in the long term.
In response, a large delegation headed by Nepals Minister of State for Women, Children and Social Welfare emphasized the persistence of internal State conflict and the absence of a functioning parliament, which was thwarting the constitutional and legal reform. At the same time, gains had been made, particularly through the establishment of a national machinery for women, which included a national commission for women, the womens ministry, a human rights commission, and a national CEDAW committee. One delegate acknowledged, however, that the budget was very, very insufficient to enable those bodies to play their role effectively. Concerning persistent discriminatory laws, delegates assured the experts that the Government was very much committed to not having discriminatory provisions and would deal with them accordingly.
Also participating in Nepals presentation were: Arjun Bahadur Thapa, Chargé dAffaires, a.i., Permanent Mission of Nepal to the United Nations; Shyam Sunder Sharma, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare; Pratap Kumar Pathak, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Transport Management; Babu Ram Regmi, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs; Durga Pokharel, Chairperson, National Womens Commission; Indira Rana, Member, National Human Rights Commission; Durga Sopb, Member-Secretary, National Dalit Commission; and Ram Babu Dhakal, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of Nepal to the United Nations.
The Committee will meet again tomorrow, 14 January, at 10 a.m. to take up the second periodic report of Kyrgyzstan.
* *** *