15 July 2005

Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee Takes up Report of Burkina Faso, Acknowledges Country’s Impressive Legislative Advances

Experts Say Policies Address Difficult Areas Other Countries Avoid; also Cite Still Daunting Hurdles in Eliminating Customary Discrimination

NEW YORK, 14 July (UN Headquarters) -- Burkina Faso’s impressive advancements in asserting rights for women through the adoption of progressive legislation and policies was acknowledged, as were the daunting hurdles still facing the country in eliminating traditional and customary forms of discrimination, as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met to discuss the situation of women in that country.

The Committee’s 23 members, acting in their personal capacity, monitor compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which Burkina Faso ratified in 1984. 

One expert, in congratulating Burkina Faso on the tremendous progress that had been made in the drive to advance women’s rights, said that the Government had been courageous enough to legislate in many difficult areas, while some other African countries had not yet begun to do so.  The authorities had done a lot for women through the new legislation and, with a greater de facto implementation of those laws, Burkina Faso could lead the way for other African countries.

“We know you’re fighting religion and patriarchy and deeply seated prejudices but it’s necessary to start thinking outside the box“, another expert said.  She pointed out how marginalized women were in rural areas.  They had little say and polygamous marriages were the norm there.  There were no laws covering violence against women and there was particularly harsh treatment of elderly women, who were sometimes characterized as witches or soul-eaters.  The Government needed to find creative ways to empower women, she said.

Burkina Faso’s Minister for the Advancement of Women, Mariam Marie Gisèle Guigma, said that given its short experience with democracy -- only since 1991 -- Burkina Faso had achieved a lot, but it had not been long enough for the dramatic changes necessary.  The Government knew it could not do everything alone, so it was working closely with non-governmental organizations and civil society to meet the goals.  It is not only women who are going to improve women’s situation, men have to be involved, she said.

Awareness-raising campaigns had paid off.  An increasing number of women and girls were contacting various offices to claim their rights or gather more information on their rights, she continued.  As a result, Burkina Faso had been witnessing a complete overhaul of traditional social norms.

Nevertheless, she added, the Government was still up against strongly entrenched customary and religious practices that hindered the advancement of women.  For example, even though female circumcision had been banned and its practice criminalized, it was still being performed.  Also, polygamous marriages, as well as forced and early marriages, were common among some groups.

Trafficking in children, which was motivated primarily by forced marriages and slave labour, was also of great concern, she said.  To combat the problem, Burkina Faso was signing agreements with its neighbours to prevent the transboundary traffic in children.  The prostitution and traffic of children was linked largely to poverty and ignorance.

Several experts urged the Government to move away from simply charging women for soliciting and to begin to criminalize the use of prostitutes by men and others who exploited them.

The Government had adopted a proactive policy to favour girls in education which had helped increase their enrolment, the Minister said.  However, disparities remained because of the persistence of such practices as early marriage and the overburdening of girls with household work. 

In response to several experts’ questions on what measures were being taken to increase the low number of women in political and diplomatic life, a representative said that a quota of 25 per cent for women in presidential, municipal and communal elections, had already been accepted, but the Ministry was trying to increase that to 30 per cent.  She said that the country’s delay in educating girls had had repercussions in many areas and was the most likely explanation for their low representation in several sectors.

Burkina Faso’s delegation also included several other representatives from various Government departments, as well as officials from its United Nations Mission.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m., Friday, 15 July, to consider the initial, second and third periodic report of Gambia.


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to consider the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of Burkina Faso on its updated efforts to implement the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW/C/BFA/4-5).  The report reviews developments in related legislation, gender stereotyping, political representation, education, employment, health, rural women and family life.

The report begins by noting that, in addition to the State, there were many non-governmental organizations and associations working in the field to improve the living conditions of the population as a whole, and those of women in particular.  Nevertheless, such factors as economic difficulties, an extremely high illiteracy rate and discriminatory customary and traditional practices remained a serious obstacles to a full implementation of the Convention.

Burkina Faso, with a population of 10.3 million, is one of the most densely populated countries in West Africa.  Women account for 51.8 per cent of the country’s total population and over 80 per cent of the people live in rural areas.  Almost half the population is under the age of 15 years.  The extremely high level of illiteracy and lack of education that generally prevailed among the country’s rural population had been an essential factor in maintaining traditional values, some of which impeded the advancement of women.  Despite the banning of some practices, they still persisted.

Since its last report, the Government had worked to consolidate the progress made and promote new measures, including legislative amendments, action plans, policies and strategies for the achievement of gender equality.  In 2004, for example, the Labour Code had been amended to include a prohibition, for the first time, on all forms of sexual harassment.

Furthermore, in 2003, a study had been undertaken to evaluate the effectiveness of the policies, strategies and action plans that were devised to address the gender problem.  It covers such issues that affect women as poverty reduction, rural development, HIV/AIDS, human rights, education and communication policies, among others.

Burkina Faso’s penal code was amended in 1996 to include sanctions for female genital mutilation, forced and/or early marriage, dowry and desertion of the family.  However, in terms of discriminatory laws, Burkina Faso allows marriage at 17 for girls (20 for boys), which might be waived for 15 and 16 year old girls, and polygamy.  Early marriages can adversely impact a woman’s reproductive health, and, in some polygamous families, women are not legally married and face great difficulties when it comes to inheritances.  Also, certain discriminatory administrative and judicial measures existed, which included systematic allocation of family benefits to the father, although the responsibility of supporting the children fell to the mother, and different tax treatment for women.

In response to those issues, nationwide training and activities to raise awareness were being undertaken to try to inform women of legislation that protects them and to change traditional perceptions and stereotypes among judges, lawyers and administrators.  The Government had not yet begun to review the law dealing with the question of polygamy, even though women were very keen for such a review to take place.  

While there was no national mechanism to gather statistical data on violence against women, the Government reported that increasing numbers of women had recourse to competent authorities, and sentences were being handed down.

Burkina Faso had no specific legislation on domestic violence, although there had always been specific legislation covering all forms of sexual violence.

Addressing education, the report indicates that the proportion of female students in school remains low, due to the persistence of traditional practices, overburdening of girls with housework and the high cost of education.  A number of measures had been put in place to promote girls’ education, in addition to the ten-year basic education development plan that had been adopted for 2001-2010.

On other pertinent issues, the report notes that prostitution was steadily increasing in Burkina Faso, due, among others, to impoverishment and a weakening of moral standards.  Also, although women’s participation in political and public life had increased somewhat, their numbers remained disproportionately minimal.  While no temporary special measures or obligatory quotas were in place, it was recommended that political parties should allocate at least 30 per cent of seats in governing bodies to women to close the gap.

According to the report, the health situation in Burkina Faso remains alarming.  Access to primary care by the population as a whole, and women in particular, was of constant concern.

The Committee also compiled a list of issues and questions in a pre-session working group seeking further information on some aspects of the report (CEDAW/PSWG/2005/II/CRP.1/Add.2).  Burkina Faso’s responses to those questions are contained in another document (CEDAW/PSWG/2005/II/CRP.2/Add.2).

Introduction of Reports

MARIAM MARIE GISÈLE GUIGMA, Minister for the Advancement of Women of Burkina Faso, presenting the report, said that following its previous report, the Committee had recommended that improvements be made in efforts to eliminate discrimination against women.  As a result, the Government had formed a partnership with non-governmental organizations, and together they had formulated policies, plans and strategies aimed at improving the status of women in her country.

Campaigns and training had been implemented to raise awareness of gender stereotyping, she continued.  There had been a revision of school books to remove any references that belittle women.  Because of the publicity efforts, an increasing number of women and girls were contacting various offices to claim their rights or gather more information on the Personal and Family Code.  As a result of those activities, Burkina Faso had been witnessing a complete overhaul of traditional social norms.

Trafficking in children was of great concern, she said.  Forced marriages and slave labour were motivating the trafficking.  Among the measures taken to combat the problem, Burkina Faso had signed an agreement with its neighbour, Mali, last year to prevent the transboundary traffic in children.  Prevention activities and publicity campaigns to protect children had been put in place.  Between 2000 and 2004, 2,631 children were intercepted and repatriated to their province of origin.  In 2004, 923 children were intercepted.  The prostitution and traffic of children was linked largely to poverty and ignorance.  To counter that phenomenon, emphasis was being put on the importance of access to education and development programmes.

The Government had adopted a proactive policy to favour girls in education which had helped increase their enrolment.  However, disparities remained because of the persistence of certain customary and religious practices, such as early marriage and overburdening girls with household work.  Women had begun to close the gap in literacy rates, which was of priority concern for the Government.  The Government had been increasing the number of non-formal education centres available to women to improve literacy.

The health situation for many women in Burkina Faso remained precarious, she said.  She also reviewed other issues in the report, such as the conditions of rural women and the status of the family code and women’s rights.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Opening the discussion, experts posed questions covering the first six articles of the Convention, which deal with such issues as measures to eliminate discrimination; the full development and advancement of women on a basis of equality with men, including the adoption of temporary measures to accelerate that equality; social and cultural stereotyping of women; and trafficking and prostitution of women.

HUGUETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, expert from Benin, noted the Convention did not seem to be a part of the country’s legal apparatus.  Could it be directly applied or invoked before the country’s courts, and how would judges react to it?  What measures had the Government taken to ensure that the Convention was fully publicized?  Had it been translated into local languages?

KRISZTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, commented that the country’s national machinery to empower women was unclear, adding that she was completely lost when it came to institutional structures addressing the rights of women.  Reviewing the various bodies mentioned in the report, she said the existence of so many committees and organizations to advance women jeopardized their effectiveness.

She, then, asked about the working methods of the national machinery for the advancement of women, and how it monitored the national plan of action, which was unclear in the report.  How were non-governmental organizations coordinating with the Government, how many women non-governmental organizations were present in the country, and how were they funded?  What was the budget of the national machinery?

MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, noted a lack of about data and information in the report to assess the country’s compliance with the Convention, or event to identify the extent of problems affecting women.  Data were needed, for example, on the number of child marriage, and on implementation of programmes to empower women.

Noting that the country had many sustainable development and poverty eradication programmes, she said it had included no data on how many women benefited from such programmes, as compared to men, in the report.  Also, had women gained more decision-making powers in development programmes?

She added that women’s situations were further compounded by a range of socio-cultural factors that prevented them from moving out of poverty.  Did the country’s poverty strategy include actions to address those factors?  Were women empowered and mobilized to cope with them?

PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said the report lacked data and information on temporary special measures it had taken to empower women.  On the face of it, such measures did not seem to be all temporary special measures, as described by the Convention.  A distinction must be made between special measures and laws or other actions to improve the situation of women.  The country should specify measures, goals and targets, as well as the women who would be affected by them, in the next report.

GLENDA SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, noted that the country was silent on prostitution and had not formally prohibited it, although it prosecuted the prostitute for soliciting.  Stressing that the emphasis should be placed on men, who directed what prostitutes did, she encouraged Burkina Faso to charge men who used prostitutes.

Adding that there seemed to be no specific measures to deal with child prostitutes, she asked what the country’s age of consent was.  Did men who had sex with children go to jail?  Emphasizing that children were not designed for sex, she said they should be allowed to be children.  Moreover, trafficking was a serious issue, but the country seemed to have no legislation against it.  Women were repatriated to their communities without therapeutic services.  They were seen as damaged goods.  Women needed assistance, and traffickers should be charged and put in jail.

Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, referring to international instruments on trafficking and prostitution, said such agreements prohibited the criminalization of prostitutes.  Stressing that prostitutes were victims, and that those who exploited them must be criminalized, she encouraged Burkina Faso to proceed in that direction.

Country Response

A representative, responding to the questions on children and female circumcision, said early marriages were a common occurrence in all regions, but the practice was diminishing as a result of raising awareness.  The Government became aware of an instance of an early or a forced marriage only when a complaint was made.

Child trafficking took place on two levels:  on a domestic level because of a move from a rural to an urban area; and also on a transboundary level, due to search for better economic opportunities.  Burkina Faso had come to realize that it was not only supplier of children, but also a transit point in the subregion, as well.  As soon as the authorities had become aware, they had not hesitated in taking action and passing legislation.  Those found to be involved were now prosecuted.  In the past year, for example, five trafficking networks had been identified; four were dismantled and the police was vigorously pursuing the members of the fifth network.

The Government was constantly working to put an end to female circumcision.  A national committee to combat the problem had been formed.  Campaigns had been launched to publicize the health hazards of female circumcision and a hotline was set up to warn of either impending circumcisions or inform of those already done.  There had been 42 trials so far to punish known cases of female circumcision.  A mini-clinic had been opened to repair the physical damage and offer counselling.

Another representative, said that, in general, international conventions, once adopted without reservation, became part of domestic legislation and could be invoked in the courts.  She did not know of a case where the Convention had been invoked.  Judges were aware of the text of the Convention which had been widely disseminated.

She said prostitution was banned and laws punished the women.  The law had targeted prostitution on the basis of criminalizing soliciting.  The law provided severe punishment for the perpetrators or exploiters of children for prostitution, which was referred to instead as “debauchery”.  The crime was aggravated if the child was less than 15.  Any act of sex with someone under the age of 16 was considered criminal.

Another representative gave further details on some programmes to provide girls and women with more opportunities for education and to create conducive conditions to enable them to pursue an education.

A representative said the Ministry’s main function was to coordinate activities performed by the Government and others to benefit women, which had not been listed in the report.  When it was established, in 1997, the Ministry was given a free-standing role as part of the Cabinet, but with the last reorganization of the Government, in 2002, it became directly answerable to the General Secretariat.

She said the Ministry ensured that Government policies were implemented to benefit women.  The debate now was whether there should be a percentage quota for political representation, which the Ministry had agreed should be 30 per cent at all levels of decision-making.  She added that the country had been setting up democratic institutions, and had achieved much over the past few years. 

Regarding the Ministry’s budget, it was small -- less than 1 per cent of the total State budget -- but was supported by such partners as the World Bank, and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), she said.  Among other activities, the Ministry allocated funds for:  infrastructure; housing; women’s training in technology, management, and water distribution; literacy campaigns; and to lighten the domestic burden.

On non-governmental organizations, she said the Ministry had a department for coordination with such organizations, and they had been consulted in preparing the report, before it was submitted to the Council of Ministers.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, an expert from the Netherlands, stressing the importance of national remedies, asked how many women had used the country’s legal aid scheme since 2000.  Were there any other low-cost, low-threshold remedies for women?  Did women victims of discrimination have direct access to the country’s Constitutional Court?

FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, asked for more information on the composition of the committee drafting the report, as well as on national machinery.

VICTORIA POPESCU, expert from Romania, referring to the Optional Protocol covering complaints and investigations, said campaign efforts should include information on the Convention and recommended making the Protocol more accessible and to have it translated.  She said that, while there was strong condemnation of child trafficking for sexual exploitation, there seemed to be a certain tolerance for trafficking for labour purposes.  Strategies and policies should also emphasize preventive measures.

DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked if legal aid services were available for women where discriminatory practices existed concerning conflicts with the personal and family code.  She recommended that the next report include more information on violence against women, including any related legislation.  Also, what were the special circumstances under which an early marriage was allowed?

SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, said that she understood the particular difficulties that developing countries faced in pursuing the advancement of women’s rights and development. Women’s equality was not a topic that should be dealt with only by some in government or in society, but rather should be mainstreamed across the board.

Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, said that policies and programmes were not enough.  The rule of law was important and people needed to be well-trained in the legal rights of women.  She added that there was a very basic misunderstanding about the nature of prostitution.  “We need to decriminalize women and, instead, criminalize those who exploit them.

Ms. GNACADJA, expert from Benin, said the real question behind trafficking was the threat of prostitution.  What kind of sexual violence were girls exposed to on some of their jobs?  It was necessary to start investigating and collecting information from that perspective.

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, congratulated the delegation on the clarity of the report as well as the tremendous progress that had been made in the drive to advance women’s rights in Burkina Faso. The government had been courageous enough to legislate in many difficult areas while some other African countries had not yet begun to do so. The authorities had done a lot for women through the new legislation and with a greater implementation of the laws. Burkina Faso could then lead the way for other African countries.

Country Response

Regarding awareness of the Convention, a representative said the country had popularized it, distributed it throughout governmental structures, and was working on translating it.  A monitoring process had been established, and efforts made to ensure that the Convention was understood.

As for trafficking, she knew of no child prostitution in the country.  Burkina Faso had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which addressed child labour, and was also a State party to the Convention on the Rights of Women in Africa.

When women came to the Ministry, she said, they were given the Convention, encouraged to use it when national texts were insufficient, and assisted if they wanted to go to court.

On legal assistance, another representative noted that appeal costs were high, but that women could obtain support from the Commission for Legal Assistance.  The State would pay notaries, lawyers and others involved in the legal and court process.  Regarding marriageable age, she said it was a discriminatory 20 for boys and 17 for girls, but the country was working to remedy that in its code on persons and the family.

As for prostitution, the country must ensure that the law was respected, and that those responsible and their accomplices were punished, she said.  Men who used prostitution were not currently punished, but the country was working to remedy that.

Another representative said the country had a special microcredit system for women, which men had no access to, and could obtain credit for agricultural materials.  In addition, banks were beginning to show more confidence in extending credit to women.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, noted that there were more candidates in public life, but no sufficient statistics about women’s participation in the national Assembly.  What, if any laws had been designed to help women to facilitate their involvement in the decision-making process?  She was happy to see that there was consideration of a quota system.  It was clear that non-governmental organizations and civil society were active on women’s issues, but how willing was the Government to change the stereotyping of women?

Country Response

A representative said the Government was working to increase women’s participation in political and public life.  In 2000, there were four women in the Assembly; now there were 13.  More women were now part of the diplomatic corp, as well, and a woman held the post of Secretary-General of the Government.  In Africa in particular, the idea of a women heading a political party was a new concept.

Women had made it to the electoral list, now let’s get them elected, she said.  But women should not be content with mediocrity.  Girls needed to be able to stay in school and educate themselves to be equal to the fight.  Agreement had yet to be reached on figures for a quota, though.

Given its short experience with democracy -- only since 1991 -- Burkina Faso had achieved a lot, she said.  It had not been long enough though for the dramatic changes necessary.  The Government knew it could not do everything alone, so it was working closely with non-governmental organizations and civil society to meet the goals.  It is not only women who are going to improve women’s situation, men have to be involved, she said.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

FRANÇOISE GASPARD, an expert from France, noted the small number of elected women in Burkina Faso, suggesting that the country introduce a law or programme to increase women’s representation in public office, as well as in diplomatic delegations.

Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said women should become more visible in Parliament and other strategic positions, or take part in debates broadcast throughout the country.  If they appeared more on the national stage, they might prompt other women to get involved in politics.  In Nigeria, a parliamentary meeting had recommended that 30 per cent of elected people should be women.  Countries should withhold subsidies for parties that failed to place women in top positions on electoral lists.  As women became more visible, stereotypes might disappear, and societies would become better places to live in.

Country Response

A representative said the 30 per cent quota for women would be used for presidential, municipal and communal elections, if it was instituted.  The recommendation of 25 per cent had already been accepted, but the Ministry was trying to increase that to 30 per cent.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, asked for data on the proportion of boys and girls enrolled in primary and secondary school, on literacy for both sexes in different age groups, and on proportions of men and women in non-formal, formal and informal education.  Did the country have a road map for attaining the Millennium Development Goal related to universal primary education, and was primary education compulsory in the country?  What did women study in vocational training schools, and what professions did they enter?

Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, noting that men seemed to enjoy greater employment opportunities than women in the private sector, asked whether the Government planned to rethink its employment policies, or emphasize the negative patterns of work in the country.  Also, what efforts were being taken to ensure better implementation of labour laws in both the public and private sectors?  How gender sensitive was the country’s judiciary, and what access to justice did women have in cases of non-compliance with labour laws?  Was there any legal protection for women who suffered sexual harassment in the workplace?

Turning to rural women, she asked what steps were being taken to ensure that women’s priorities were considered in public investment programmes for infrastructure -- such as water, sanitation, and road transport -- in rural areas.

Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, asked whether there was a strategy to progressively increase health services, and how it would be monitored, especially with respect to women’s access to them.  Also, what range of reproductive services was provided by the Ministry of Health?  Was there a targeted programme to reduce maternal mortality?

She also noted that family planning services were scarce in the country, and asked why people accepted that situation.  What steps was the Government taking to strengthen implementation of the European Union road map for reducing maternal mortality?  Noting that many young women had unsafe abortions, and also that their rate of HIV/AIDS was high, she asked about programmes to educate young people on unsafe sex.

ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, asked what steps the Government was taking to collect data on health, access to drinking water, and health-care services in rural areas.  What percentage of the population had access to clean water and sanitation services in rural areas?  Also, noting that the country’s individual and family code contained discriminatory provisions, she asked what the Government planned to do to correct that.

Ms. ZOU, expert from China, said that despite the fact the majority of women lived in rural areas with high poverty rates, the report did not offer a clear assessment of the condition of women in rural areas.  She asked for more information on their situation, including their access to microcredit projects and if there was equal treatment of women and men for credit.  Also, what was the rural community structure?  Did women have a say?

Ms. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, said it was clear from the report how marginalized women were in rural areas.  Women had little say and polygamous marriages were the norm in rural areas.  Discriminatory traditions also appeared to be much stronger in those areas.  There were no laws covering violence against women and there was particularly harsh treatment of elderly women, who were sometimes seen as witches or soul-eaters.  The Government needed to find creative ways to empower women, perhaps through woman-centred activities, since men by custom excluded them.  “We know you’re fighting religion and patriarchy and deeply seated prejudices, but it’s necessary to start thinking outside the box“, she said.

Country Response

A representative provided comparative statistics on girls and education at several levels, in both rural areas and urban areas over the past few years.  She also gave data on women and illiteracy rates.  Illiteracy was a structural factor of poverty, she said.  She highlighted the many measures that had been implemented to improve access to education for girls and women.

Another representative, speaking on health issues, said the Government had reviewed its health policy and adopted a national plan with the aim of providing primary health care.  He gave details on the facets of the national plan that were directly aimed at women and health.

A representative, addressing training and financing for women in rural areas, said there were funds that supported activities for women and provided credit.  Another organization helped women in gaining access to land.  The organization encountered cultural difficulties in villages, though, so the Government was reviewing the situation.

Another representative added that parents were now penalized if they did not enrol their children in school.  The State also had a responsibility for children’s education -- in providing transportation and helping with the cost of school supplies.  Previously, parents had preferred to send boys to school, rather than girls, so that they could obtain paying jobs and help with family expenses.  Girls, on the other hand, often left their families to join another, and any wages they earned would go to the new family.

Regarding employment, she agreed that discrimination had persisted, even though it was now illegal.  Noting that much had been done to condemn such discrimination, she added that sexual harassment at work had been defined, and access to courts was free for both sexes.  Handicapped women should also not experience discrimination in employment, but the problem, in practical terms, was in determining when it had occurred and penalizing the guilty parties.

As for technical education, girls could attend technical high schools to increase their training in that field.  In addition, the Ministry had set up a centre for information and guidance about study and employment in scientific fields.

Responding to questions on access to clean water, another representative said that women now had a say in village management, and that the problem was mainly one of infrastructure.  Women were organizing themselves into cooperatives, and were involved in the marketing of fish, and artisanal work.  They were also equipped with technology to ease their domestic tasks, and assisted with managing their work in the field.

On HIV/AIDS, she said the rate was dropping and had become a question of population and development, rather than health.  A vast programme was being carried out in the country to fight the pandemic.  The Ministry had given priority to rural women in combating it, but resources were lacking to properly address it.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked for the figure on how many girls benefited from free school supplies and how many were granted scholarships.  Was Burkina Faso actively seeking international cooperation in pursuit of the millennium goals and, if so, which countries had promised assistance?

SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, noting that the health situation remained alarming, expressed concern that the infant mortality had risen.  Why had it risen instead of falling?  Was there a connection with HIV/AIDS?

Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, asked why the number of women in civil service was still so low?  Were there any measures being taken to encourage women to seek work in that sector?

Country Response

A representative said that various programmes were being carried out in the health sector to address maternal and infant mortality.  The latest statistics had not been included in the report.

Another representative said the work of eliminating stereotyping was a progressive step among all those necessary to eliminate discrimination against women.  She added that all girls received free books.

The explanation for the low number of women in civil service was due to the delay in educating girls. That delay had had repercussions in many other areas, as well.  The Government was encouraging female candidates, though.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. GNACADJA, expert from Benin, asked whether the Napoleonic Code, which had discriminatory provisions, had survived in the country.  If so, it should be cancelled as soon as possible.  She also wondered to what degree the measure prohibiting dowry-paying was applied.

Also, if a man was polygamous with several wives, how were household items distributed?  Polygamy discriminated against women in the sense that men were allowed to have several marital partners, but women were not.  It also implied infidelity.  In addition, how could all the wives live together?

Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, asked about legal protection for women currently living in polygamous situations.  She also asked whether a proposed bill relating to violence against women would include provisions addressing punishment for perpetrators, and services for victims.

In addition, she recommended that the country include provisions from article 16 when it reviewed the family code.  She also noted that early and forced marriage had persisted in the country, and asked what the Government was doing to enforce the laws in the respect.  Regarding the right to inheritance in the country, she noted that the parents of the deceased spouse often took over the inheritance and the children.  What was the Government doing to enforce laws regarding inheritance?

Ms. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, asked whether the country stigmatized women who had no children, wondering about the situation for minorities in the country.  Did Burkina Faso have lesbians, and if so, were they organized?

Country Response

Regarding the family code and inheritance, a representative said that women did suffer from the practise of polygamy, and that the country had unsuccessfully attempted to eradicate it.  However, entering a polygamous situation must be a voluntary choice for the women, who could also object to a second marriage by her spouse, if she could prove that she and her children would be neglected. 

Burkina Faso fought polygamy and wanted to eradicate it, but Africa had chosen it and it had become a complex regional problem.

As for inheritance, she said sanctions could be exercised against families who tried to take control of the lives or inheritances of widowed women.  A widow inherited one fourth of her husband’s assets, or shared them in a polygamous situation.  Regarding lesbians in the country, she said the word meant nothing to her, but she would look into whether there were lesbians in the country.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked for clarification about the personal and family code as it regarded the husband’s consent about spacing between children.

Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, asked if there were insights into why a woman would “freely” choose to live in a polygamous marriage and why she would freely choose to go to live with the brother of her dead husband?  Did the reverse ever happen, where a man went to live with the sister of his dead wife?

Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked about the socio-economic impact of polygamous marriages.  What strategies were envisaged to overcome such a complex problem?

Ms. SAIGA, expert from Japan, asked if widow received only one quarter in inheritance, what happened to the remaining three quarters?

Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked if the right to alimony was applicable to women in polygamous marriages, as well as those in monogamous marriages.

Country Response

A representative said the family code was aimed at promoting a developed family, based on rights and duties, mutual fidelity and respect.  Anyone who had a problem could seek recourse in tribunals, and women could obtain divorces.

On polygamy, she said women may enter polygamous arrangements to find a way out of poverty, since men usually had the money in Africa.  She did not know why women would choose a polygamous situation, but several factors were involved, and each woman had her own reasons.  Polygamy did not further women’s empowerment, but many women said they were happy in such situations.

Regarding inheritance, the widow received one fourth of a deceased spouse’s assets and the children the remainder.  What the widow received would depend on whether there were children, or how many there were.  As for the food stipend, she said divorced women received that until they remarried or no longer needed it.

Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, speaking as the Chair in her concluding remarks, said that there had been a frank dialogue with Burkina Faso.  She commended them on their progress and expressed the hope that even greater efforts would be made in all the areas to have total application of the Convention for the benefit not just of women, but of men as well.  She also expressed the hope that by its next report, progress would have been made on the question of polygamy, perhaps even to the extent that it was totally abolished.

Ms. GUIGMA said her country was aware that gaps existed and its compliance was not yet perfect, but it had ratified the Optional Protocol on complaints and investigations and was ready to be criticized.

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