19 May 2006

Guatemala's many Laws, Programmes Need to Be Harmonized to Effectively Address Violence, Trafficking, Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee Told

Despite Significant Advances in Human Development, Obstacles Continue to Impede Women's Access to Education, Health Care, Employment

NEW YORK, 18 May (UN Headquarters) -- Guatemala's many laws and programmes intended to end discrimination against women must be harmonized into a comprehensive, streamlined system capable of addressing widespread violence against women, trafficking in women, indigenous women's rights and "femicide" -- the murder and disappearances of women -- experts said today, as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women considered Guatemala's sixth periodic report.

Maria Gabriela Nuñez, Minister of the Presidential Secretariat for Women (SEPREM), who introduced the country report and fielded questions and comments from the Committee's experts, said that, despite significant advances in human development in the last decade, economic, political, social and cultural inequities continued to impede the exercise of women's rights and women's access to education, health care and jobs.  Poverty among rural, indigenous women in particular remained an entrenched problem.

Ms. Nuñez outlined the structure, strategies, progress made and current challenges of various government offices, bodies and programmes to improve the lot of Guatemalan women during the 2002-2003 reporting period.

Guatemala still had much to do to advance women's causes and implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, she said.  The Central American country must work to fully harmonize national legislation with international norms, strengthen national efforts to end human trafficking, improve measures to reduce maternal mortality, better monitor and evaluate progress in implementing the Convention, and carry out an evaluation of the National Policy for Promotion and Development of Guatemalan Women as a participatory process with relevant partners.

However, implementation of legal measures to protect women's rights and promote women's empowerment would not be easy as much of Guatemala's male-dominated Congress had been reluctant to approve draft legislation in that regard.

Another delegate of the 10-member Guatemalan delegation said that just 13 women held official congressional posts, compared to 158 men, making it difficult to implement some women's policies such as the current harassment bill.  The Congressional Commission of Women had been working to pass laws to eradicate violence against women since 1998.  It had scored some successes such as comprehensive reform of the civil code, making it possible for women to be heads of household and not require permission to work.  The Commission was also advocating passage of bills to end trafficking in human beings, guarantee universal access to contraceptive and family planning, create a quota system for indigenous women and those in political life, and reform provisions in the Labour Code relating to the agricultural sector.  Many of those bills would be put forward in July.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 19 May, to consider Malawi's combined second, third, fourth and fifth periodic reports.


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had before it Guatemala's sixth periodic report (document CEDAW/C/GUA/6), which highlights Guatemala's efforts to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women during 2002 and 2003.  It provides information on government legislative and administrative measures to end discrimination and achieve gender parity, as well as State action to implement the recommendations made by the Committee during its consideration of Guatemala's fifth periodic report.  The present report focuses on developments during 2002 and 2003, as well as issues and institutions that were not considered in previous reports.

As many mechanisms for gender equity, such as women's units or areas within various institutions, were formed recently, it would be premature to measure their impact on women's lives and the cultural, social and political changes in Guatemalan society, the report said.

In that regard, the Presidential Secretariat for Women (SEPREM) aimed to develop a system of gender indicators for use by government agencies to measure progress towards gender equality and equity.  The Presidential Secretariat had made it possible to empower various government bodies to reach the targets set out in the National Policy for the Advancement and Development of Guatemalan Women:  Equal Opportunity Plan 2001-2006, through their own plans, programmes and projects.  The Presidential Secretariat gave priority to dialogue with civil society women's organizations and the Government in order to achieve consensus on compliance with the Policy and Guatemala's national and international obligations concerning gender issues.

The report details Guatemala's steps to implement articles 1 through 16 of the Women's Convention.  Regarding article 1, on the applicability of the definition of discrimination contained in the Convention, the report states that the Political Constitution lacks a vision of gender equity from a human rights standpoint, but, in recent decades, laws had been enacted to allow for the implementation of actions for the advancement of women.

Concerning article 2, on administrative and legislative anti-discrimination measures, the report highlights the actions of agencies at the judicial and policy level that are responsible for monitoring implementation of legislation in terms of human rights, the rights of rural women and indigenous women, and the prevention of  domestic violence.  It also highlights action taken by agencies responsible for the advancement of women in terms of job training, employment, environmental issues, indigenous peoples' development, prevention of violence against women, health care, housing, agriculture and social affairs, among other concerns.

In terms of article 3, on measures guaranteeing equal enjoyment of rights and freedoms, the report summarizes the decrees adopted by the Congress during 2002 to 2003 on advancement of women.  It also states that, concerning article 4, on special temporary measures aimed at accelerating equality, no such measures were taken over the same period.

Regarding article 5, on the elimination of sexist roles and stereotypes, it lists the functions of various government ministries and offices to eliminate negative stereotypes in educational materials, prevent and eradicate violence against women, and promote responsible parenting.

Concerning article 6, on the suppression of trafficking in women and exploitation of prostitution, the report highlights the efforts of health centres to provide care to sex workers for sexually transmitted diseases, as well as action taken by the National Commission against Child Labour and the act on Integrated Protection of Children and Youth.

The section on article 7, relating to access to political and public life, details women's registration and participation in elections, the number of women in government-held posts, including Congress, and in labour unions.

The section on article 8, concerning women's participation in representing the Government at the international level, provides statistics on women in foreign service posts.

Concerning article 9, on equality in respect of acquiring or changing nationality, it states that, during the reporting period, no amendments had been made to the Constitution.

The report also details measures taken to promote article 10, on equality in education; article 11, on equality in employment; article 12, on equality in access to health care; article 13, on equality in terms of social and economic benefits; article 14, on elimination of discrimination against rural women; article 15, on equality before the law; and article 16, on equality in marriage and family relations.

Presentation of Reports

Introducing the country report on Guatemala to the Committee were María Gabriela Nuñez, Minister of the Presidential Secretariat for Women; Jorge  Skinner-Klée, Permanent Representative of Guatemala to the United Nations; María del Carmen Acena, Minister of Education; Jaime Gomez, Vice Minister of Public Health and Social Assistance; Martha Altolaguirre, Assistant Secretary of Cooperation and Minister of Planning and Programming of the President; Nineth Montenegro, President of the Congressional Commission of Women; Connie Taracena Secaira, Minister Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of Guatemala to the United Nations; Teresa Zapeta, Defender of Indigenous Women; Sandra Barrera, Representative of the Analysis Section of the Presidential Human Rights Commission; and Rocio Samayoa Rodriguez of the Beijing Guatemala Committee.

In presenting the report, Ms. NUÑEZ said that, despite significant advances in human development in the last decade, poverty among rural and indigenous women remained, due to economic, political, social and cultural inequities resulting from women's exclusion from or limited access to education, health and employment opportunities.   Guatemala's Constitution recognized equal rights for men and women.  Although the principle of equality was a constitutional right, it had not been fully adopted by all State institutions and Guatemalan society, in general.  Such injustices must be corrected.

Thanks to the Committee's recommendations for greater coordination among current women's mechanisms, the Women's State Platform, comprised of executive, legislative and judiciary representatives, had been very well received, she continued.  The Presidential Secretariat for Women had promoted creation of the Development of Guatemalan Women Inter-Institutional Coordination, which aimed to develop a coordinated, well articulated agenda for women's development.  That coordination was formed by the Indigenous Women's Defence Unit, the National Women's Forum, the National Office for Women's Affairs, the First Lady's Social Affairs Secretariat and SEPREM.  Efforts of SEPREM had led to the successful inclusion of women's integral security in the present Government's political agenda; a 50 per cent increase in SEPREM's budget; the appointment of SEPREM as the institutional coordinator of the Commission for the Murders of Women; and development of strategic alliances with leading bodies in charge of government planning, statistics production, training of public officers and public finances.

Since 2004, the National Coordinator for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Violence against Women had made an important effort to disseminate the National Plan for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Violence against Women, she said.  In 2002, the Council of Ministers for Women's Affairs in Central America had been set up, and in June 2005 was consolidated with the Social Integration Secretariat of Central America.  Its key objective was to influence and incorporate actions in favour of women and to create spaces for negotiations in the commercial, social and political fields at the regional level.

Regarding the Committee's recommendation to assess the impact of the various women's promotion programmes and measures, she said the Presidential Secretariat, in conjunction with the Indigenous Women's Defence Unit, began in late 2005 a process to evaluate and update the National Policy for the Promotion and Development of Guatemalan Women and the Equity of Opportunities Plan 2001-2006.  Under the policy, responsible institutions worked to improve women's conditions in such fields as law, economics, health, education, personal security, labour and political participation.

Concerning measures to combat discrimination and racism, she said the Presidential Commission for Discrimination and Racism had been set up in 2002 to provide advisory services to the State to help end discrimination and racism against indigenous groups, through public awareness campaigns and public policy monitoring.

Regarding article 3, on measures to guarantee the rights and freedoms under equal conditions, she said several laws had been approved, such as the 2002 reform of the Criminal Code, the 2002 approval of the Law for the Promotion of Education against Discrimination for Gender and Ethnic Descent, and the 2005 Law for Universal Access to Family Planning Services and Their Integration into the Reproductive Health Programme.  The Temporary Special Act for Personal Documentation aimed to ensure the full exercise of citizen rights by women affected by armed conflict.

In 2004, the Consultative Commission for the Educational Reform's Subcommission on Gender had analysed elementary school textbooks to identify existing sexist and ethnic stereotypes, and had submitted its observations and recommendations to the Ministry of Education for implementation, Ms. Nuñez continued.  Last year, the Presidential Commission on Discrimination and Racism had devised a sensitization campaign through the media to end discrimination on the basis of gender and race.  Guatemalan officials were also developing a campaign to promote the Social Development Law, particularly concerning health and family planning.

In terms of eliminating trafficking in women and prostitution, she said the Inter-Institutional Cooperation Group against Trafficking of Human Beings was undertaking reform to penalize and restrict trafficking.  The Social Welfare Secretariat coordinated the Articulating Group against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Boys, Girls and Youngsters through:  training of teachers, immigration officials and judicial representatives; providing shelters for victims; launching public awareness campaigns; and maintaining an information database on victims.  The National Civilian Police and the Public Prosecutor Office had set up specialized units to combat human trafficking.

Turning to article 7, on access to political and public participation, she said that, in the past few years, there had been an increase in the number of women's organizations.  Women had registered to vote in record number during the 2003 presidential elections, and more than 42 per cent of women had voted during that election.  Fifteen per cent of the country's Ministries and 35 per cent of the Funds and Secretariats were under the leadership of women.

Regarding equality in education, the efforts of the Ministry of Education were geared towards high-quality education and aimed to respond to socio-economic and cultural needs.  The programmes of the Ministry of Education had produced positive results in reducing the gap between boys' and girls' school enrolment and education, particularly in highly populated indigenous areas.  In 2004, it was noted that girls in higher school grades had lower dropout rates.  The Ministry of Education's curriculum aimed to promote equity and equality, self-esteem, ethnic group equity and social equity, and included a teacher training programme to promote such aims.  In 2003, the Education Ministry had formed an official agreement to respect the use of traditional indigenous customs in public schools.

In terms of article 11, on employment equality, she said that in 2003 the Government had set up a Multi-Institutional Work Commission for Labour Relations to propose and implement actions to ensure that owners of textile drawback companies respected employees' rights.  A Special Unit of Work Inspectors had been set up to help the Commission and to enforce and supervise compliance with labour laws and social security norms.  The 2001-2006 Promotion and Defence of Labour Rights of Working Youth and Women Project, with support from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), had developed training programmes on gender equity and labour rights.  Further, the Commission, with support from the Human Rights Legal Action Centre and the Unit for the Resolution of Conflicts in the Textile Drawback Industry, was promoting ratification of the Agreement 155 on Occupational Health and Security and Environment in the Workplace of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

She said the Reproductive Health Programme of the Ministry of Health had expanded coverage and training in rural and urban areas to provide better obstetrical emergency care, counselling, family planning services, cervical cancer exams, and HIV/AIDS prevention services, particularly for teenagers.  The Strategy for the Reduction of Mother-Child Mortality included training for midwives, whose services were customarily used among rural and indigenous women.  Women's contraceptive use varied widely, with less than 50 per cent of non-indigenous women using contraceptives.  The National Programme for the Prevention of HIV/AIDS was providing special training to 70 per cent of the country's epidemiologists.

With respect to article 14, on the elimination of discrimination against rural women, she said the 2004 Policy for Gender Equity of the Land's Fund gave rural women easier access to land ownership. In the last two years, the percentage of women "heads of households" that had been granted land purchase loans through the Programme of Access to Land had reached 11 per cent of total female land beneficiaries. Women accounted for 55 per cent of loan recipients of the Programme for Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises.  The 2005 "Fighting against Exclusions" Programme contributed to social, economic and political inclusion of rural and poor women, particularly indigenous women.   Guatemala's Congress, in partnership with civil society organizations, worked to implement the National Policy for Promotion and Development of Guatemalan Women.

Regarding article 16, on equality in marriage and family relations, she said a proposal to amend the Civil Code and Family Courts Law had been submitted to Congress.  The amendment called for regulating equality in marriage, child custody, and access to land, justice and inheritances.  The 3367 initiative, also before Congress, aimed to create a specific law for the integral protection of marriage and family under equal terms for men and women.

To disseminate information about implementation of the Women's Convention and the Optional Protocol, the Presidential Secretariat and the National Women's Forum had edited a video about the Convention and the Optional Protocol.  Women's organizations had also used the Convention and the Optional Protocol as a legal and political framework, while disseminating information on it through workshops.  The SEPREM had published the Committee's recommendations in its fifth country report, and the Judiciary Power had developed information materials on the Commission topics.  In addition, the Presidential Human Rights Commission had edited several books related to women's rights and distributed education videos.

The challenges that lay ahead, she said, included reaching full harmonization of national legislation with international norms; strengthening national efforts to address trafficking in humans, particularly girls; expanding political and civil participation of women at all levels; strengthening State efforts to reduce maternal mortality; strengthening national efforts to monitor and evaluate progress in implementing the Convention; developing a full, permanent communication strategy for implementation; and carrying out an evaluation of the National Policy for Promotion and Development of Guatemalan Women as a participatory process with relevant partners.

Experts' Comments and Questions

SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, praised the signing, passing and ratification of international Conventions on human rights and the elimination of discrimination against women, but noted that international standards were not sufficiently harmonized with domestic legislation.  While the Presidential Secretariat for Women recognized the problem, was it true for others within the Government?

She noted an imbalance of efforts of three branches of Government (executive, legislative and judiciary) in implementing the Convention and asked what role they played in preparing the report.  Was there participation from non-governmental organization (NGOs)?  Finally, how did the delegation intend to disseminate the Committee's recommendations?

MARY SHANTI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, asked about decree 57/2002 of the Guatemalan Criminal Code, which had been amended by decree 17/73 and provided a definition of discrimination on the grounds of gender.  Did the new definition cover both direct and indirect discrimination?

What measures did the Government take to monitor compliance of ministries in promoting gender equality?  Did it provide the ministries with clear guidelines?  Were ministries required to report regularly on their progress and, if so, to whom did they submit those reports?

Regarding Guatemala's child protection act, Ms. Shanti Dairiam asked if the Office of the Rights of Children paid attention to questions of the abuse of girl-children.  Finally, she remarked that the Presidential Secretariat for Women seemed to be fighting a lonely fight.  Was there a plan to educate others within Government?

FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, remarked on the myriad offices and units dealing with women's issues in Guatemala (requiring the "coordination of coordinating bodies", for example) and wondered if the system could be simplified further.  She asked where the head of the Presidential Secretariat for Women was situated in that hierarchy.

Country Response

Speaking on the difficulty of harmonizing international instruments with national ones, a representative of Guatemala confirmed that problems did exist.  A strategy had not been yet developed to deal with it, but a joint strategy with legislative body was envisioned.

On the criminalization of inter-family violence, she said a draft law on that subject was just beginning to be processed. Unfortunately, it did not include clauses to cover domestic violence, which was a difficult subject for Congress to swallow.  She also acknowledged the imbalance between the three branches of Government in pursuing gender equality, and deficiencies were not prominent in the legislature.  Training had been conducted with judges and law enforcement officials, but more needed to be done.

On how the report was prepared, she explained that it had been written in December 2003, before the new Government had come to power.  Her impression was that the Presidential Secretariat for Women had called on the participation of all ministries, as well as the women's movement and judiciary, in doing so.

She said that since a woman had assumed the presidency of the Supreme Court, there had been a big effort to train judges on women's rights.  The Convention was indeed binding; several cases of discrimination had appeared in court and, in one case, five people had been sentenced.

On whether the SEPREM was receiving adequate support, she said the large contingent accompanying the head of the Presidential Secretariat at the present meeting demonstrated a growing support.  She agreed that greater cooperation was needed among the different women's bodies.  The SEPREM was the highest body in the country dealing with the issue, with advisory and coordinating powers, and was headed by a minister who participated in Cabinet meetings.  Under the Secretariat was a consultative council comprised of representatives of different ministries.  The Secretariat had its own budget, which had funded 98 per cent of all its activities in the last reporting period.

Describing the membership of the Guatemalan Congress, another delegate explained that there were 13 women in official positions compared to 158 men, making it difficult to implement some women's policies, such as the current harassment bill.  A commission, which she chaired, had been working within Congress to pass laws to eradicate violence against women since 1998.  Among their successes was a comprehensive reform of the civil code, changing old rules where only men could be heads of household, and under which women required permission to work.

Other issues being pursued included the trafficking in human beings, bringing universal access to contraceptive and family planning law, creating quotas for indigenous and women in political life, and introducing reforms to the labour code relating to the agricultural sector.  She said a large number of those bills would be put forward in July.

Another delegate spoke of efforts undertaken within the education system, where a programme containing a new civil education component had been introduced in 2005.  Under it, students learned about the rights of women and ethnic groups, as well as the importance of social values such as respect, solidarity, honesty and responsibility, among others.

On the promotion of equity and complementarity between men, women, boys and girls, she said a civil society group had been created to measure progress through a "Project to build citizenship" programme.  It involved NGOs and received support from a German agency.  The goal was to adapt a similar programme in Colombia to fit the situation in Guatemala.

Also, the Ministry of Education had recently begun monitoring attitudes on gender equality in teaching and learning processes in the classroom, as well as within the Ministry itself.  It was the biggest ministry of the central Government, comprising 50 per cent of government workers.  Of those, two thirds were women.

On the subject of indigenous women, another delegate described affirmative action measures taken to promote their advancement, as well as to promote the harmonious coexistence of cultures.  Of note were measures to provide legal and social support for victims of violence.  In 2005, there were 2,006 cases of which 85 per cent involved domestic and sexual violence.  The ombudsman for indigenous affairs was also working to pass a bill in Congress to protect domestic workers.  A law had been adopted in 2002 to prevent discrimination based on gender, ethnic group, religion and economic status, and two sentences had already been handed down within that legal framework.  But more needed to be done.

The office of the ombudsman said it had a $2 million catch-all budget.  There were 52 professionals working in the agency, some of whom were indigenous.

Experts' Comments and Questions

GLENDA SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, noted that a limited number of temporary special measures to eliminate discrimination against women had been adopted in Guatemala.  She stressed the importance of instituting more special measures to target all groups of women, both indigenous and non-indigenous.  She especially stressed the need to tackle racism, and asked whether anyone had, in fact, been sent to jail for being racist.

On trafficking and prostitution, she reminded delegates that measures were needed to deal with internal trafficking, as well as cross-border trafficking.  Were owners of brothels or go-go clubs, for example, prosecuted in relation to those problems?

DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked about sex role stereotypes in relation to the family, especially among the indigenous population.  What measures had been taken to combat that, aside from changes in school textbooks?  Were those textbooks effective?

On the reduction of domestic violence, including violence against women, she asked about the seeming inability of Guatemala to investigate and make arrests in such cases, giving the impression that perpetrators were treated with impunity.  The same applied to "femicide".  "How many cases of femicide had been investigated and were the perpetrators prosecuted?  Was any system in place to help victims' families?  Did data exist on the victims of femicide themselves?"

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, said that, despite the equal opportunities plan of 2004-2006, obstacles limiting women's participation in decision-making remained.  What of groups with no access to mass media?  On "femicide", there did not seem to be true headway, despite the creation of a special commission.  What immediate measures had been taken to fight that phenomenon?  Were State bodies part of the special commission?  Did it have people with sufficient training to carry out its mandate, and did it have enough financial resources?  Did the commission face a reporting deadline?  Official information to breakdown profile of victims would be useful.

Country Response

In response to Ms. Simms' question regarding temporary special measures to combat discrimination, one delegate agreed that a quota system for members of Congress might be useful.  Unfortunately, there had been no success in pushing for such a system so far.  However, a recent campaign calling for "a national crusade against discrimination" demonstrated firm public recognition of the problem.  A move had been made to create important decision-making positions for indigenous professionals to take part in the executive branch of Government.

She said no one had been jailed for racism.

Turning to "femicide", the delegate said the upward trend of such crimes in the last five years was alarming.  In 2006, 14 men had been tried and imprisoned for murdering women, but she admitted that problems did exist in collecting evidence that could be used in court.  Prosecutors offices and police were currently working to ensure that statistical registers were being harmonized, so that better data was collected.  According to one count, as many as 2,070 women had been murdered, mostly involving 14-35 year-olds.  Organized crime and drug trafficking were seen to be contributing factors.  But there were information gaps.  She also said the protection of witnesses and families of victims was a significant weakness in the Guatemalan legal system. 

Regarding the composition of the special commission, she said its members came from the legislature, judiciary, and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Health, Communications, the national police, the national institute for statistics, ombudsman for indigenous women, parliamentarians of different political parties, and representatives of the Supreme Court.  The role played by each member was framed by their institutions' respective mandates and fell under one of the following categories:  investigation, lobbying, training and operational activities.

A delegate said that, since 2004, there had been concern about trafficking in human beings.  Besides reforming its penal code, Guatemala had entered into the Palermo Protocol, the Protocol against Trafficking in Persons, and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Air and Sea.  Further, it had set up an inter-institutional group to deal with trafficking in persons for both sexual exploitation and other purposes.  A great deal of very intense work had been done in that area.  Government officials, together with UNICEF and NGOs, had hammered out a comprehensive bill on trafficking of human beings, which took into account prevention and protection.  There were many human rights instruments that could be used as models for Guatemalan law regarding prosecuting and sentencing traffickers.

In terms of measures to combat trafficking, she said Guatemala had several response units in the police and in the Prosecutors Office.  The Office was small, about half the size of Costa Rica's Prosecutors Office.  A bill before Congress would allow for DNA-type testing of alleged perpetrators, making it easier to identify them.  Guatemala was a transit country for human traffic from South America to North America.  Traffickers who transported Latin Americans to North America called "coyotes" often deceived young girls and, instead of giving them passage to North America, sent them to third countries for sexual exploitation.  Guatemala was coordinating with the United States to strengthen the fight against those crimes.

Violence against women was a regional issue, she continued, adding that she had worked on cases involving violence against women in Ciudad Juarez in Mexico.  There was growing scorn for women's lives and health and the belief that violent impulses could easily be vented against women.  That had to do with education, culture and migration.  Many Guatemalan men migrated north, leaving women back home to run households and supervise children alone.  There were institutional weaknesses in Guatemala.  More than three decades of armed civil conflict had led to the disappearance of most civil educational and health institutions.  The country was still struggling to fill that vacuum.

Another delegate, responding to questions about indigenous teachers, said Guatemala was an intercultural, bilingual society.  Many of the 85,000 teachers had bilingual training.  Intercultural, bilingual education was offered in the first, second and third grades.  Eighty per cent of the indigenous population accounted for the four major indigenous languages, and instruction of all four had been incorporated into the first three grades.   Guatemala was working to incorporate such instruction at higher grades, as well.

In terms of Ms. Simms' question about school textbooks, she said that in 2003 new textbooks had been introduced, but it had been difficult to get teachers to use the books.  The process involved a new curriculum and getting teachers to adopt new attitudes.  An analysis of teachers' feedback in the last three years about the textbooks was under way.

Concerning Ms. Arocha Dominguez's question about illiteracy among rural women, she said literacy campaigns had been launched for rural women over 40 so that they could be informed about their rights.  The First Lady's Social Affairs Secretariat had radio programmes, including the "Growing Well" Programme, aimed at increasing self-respect; that had been very popular and proved to be effective.

Another delegate gave specific examples of sentencing and penalties for perpetrators of discrimination, such as the publicly debated case of Maria Olimpia.  Last month, before the public debate on the case opened, the perpetrator had agreed to take courses and earn a diploma to support the fight against discrimination, as well as to launch a campaign against public discrimination.  No prison sentence had been given.  Another case still being processed involved alleged discrimination by men in a legal agency, and a perpetrated had been suspended from work for 15 days. There were few cases before the courts concerning discrimination against women, but the cases themselves had generated social awareness about the problem of discrimination.

In terms of affirmative action, a State policy had been launched last year to end discrimination against women, particularly of indigenous women, in decision-making.  A study was under way to ascertain the financial cost of discrimination, particularly of indigenous women.  However, adoption of affirmative action legislation remained an uphill battle, she concluded.

Experts' Questions and Comments

HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked if violence against women was an issue that was regularly reported at the Council of Ministers.  Had the Guatemalan President publicly announced his determination and political will to end violence against and the killing of women?

CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said the delegation had said that human rights protection was problematic in Guatemala and that the judiciary needed to expand its understanding of the problem.  However, the delegation, at the same time, said that the Presidency of the Supreme Court and the judiciary were occupied by women.

FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, said the country report did not mention the Committee's recommendations concerning all articles of the Convention.  For example, the Committee's many recommendations on article 4 were absent.  Article 4 had not been correctly interpreted.

Another expert asked whether the Convention was part of Guatemala's legal system.  Were cases of murder of women included?  It was important to be aware of cases such as the case of Mexico, under article 8 of the Optional Protocol, that had already been examined.  A large number of women had been murdered in Cuidad Juarez in Mexico.

Country Response

Responding to questions posed by experts on genocide, one delegate said that an agreement had been signed on 8 March 2006 by the President of the Republic, the President of the Supreme Court, the Institute of Statistics and the Programme against Family Violence to tackle the issue.  Regarding "femicide", she said that a link had been made between those murders and juvenile criminals, although further investigation was necessary before that link could be confirmed.  Similar analyses were being conducted to ascertain whether a relationship existed between those murders and organized crime bodies.

On the Convention's effectiveness in Guatemalan courts, she said a document had been disseminated to judicial organs and schools providing details on the Convention and its Optional Protocol.  In her opinion, judges and those who administered justice in the country were becoming increasingly familiar with the Convention. 

Another delegate followed up on that response by saying that the Guatemalan Constitution did recognize rights beyond those contained in the country's own legislation.  Indeed, references to international human rights instruments had been made in past.

In response to Ms. Gaspard's comments, another delegate assured the Committee that its recommendation regarding temporary special measures would be considered and outcomes included in the next report.

VICTORIA POPESCU SANDRU, expert from Romania, remarked on the vibrancy of civil society in Guatemala and on the strong cooperation between the Presidential Secretariat for Women with other those organizations.  However, she reminded delegates that the primary responsibility to eliminate gender discrimination fell on the Government.  As such, the Secretariat must be seen to take the lead, rather than play a supporting role for NGOs.

She then remarked on the "serious under-representation" of female elected representatives at the local level, in particular of indigenous women, and stressed the importance of quotas to correct the imbalance.  As she understood it, a draft bill had been submitted in August 2005 proposing to impose a quota requiring that 44 per cent of those holding elected office be women.  What was the current status of that bill?  What kinds of measures had been taken to ensure the adoption of that act?  Also, were any measures being taken to help female candidates financially?  Also, were there plans to institute the systematic training of men and boys on the importance of gender equality?

Responding to Ms. Popescu Sandru, one delegate agreed on the need for a more balanced presence of women and men across all government entities and public organizations.  Towards that end, it was necessary to exchange views on how to build a joint strategy.  Input from other organizations was needed, as well on the subject of quotas.

Regarding the participation of indigenous women in politics, she said that a pilot programme to train female leaders at the local level had resulted in the growth of women's networks and a feeling of increased empowerment among participating women.  Requests were being received from other parts of the country to establish such "political schools for women" in their region.  Efforts were also being made to develop educational programmes to educate men on the importance of gender equality.

It was common for women to take on more than one job to support themselves and their families, she said.  The Government had recently developed a programme to help women to set up small business, established jointly by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of the Economic Development.

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, lauded the delegates for their achievements so far.  She said that, after having exhausted all national legal recourse, she reminded the delegates that it was possible for them to turn to the Committee for further assistance.  She encouraged the delegates to continue their efforts to mobilize support for the cause within Congress, and suggested that a coalition of parties be created to "punish parties that did not put forward female candidates".  Also, courses should be given to men to rid themselves of their prejudices against women.

In response to Ms. Belmihoub-Zerdani, one delegate explained that Parliament had many divisions and sub-divisions, making it difficult to build alliances.  Another delegate added that a major problem was that 14 women served in Congress versus more than 100 men, hampering the reform of electoral law.  Nevertheless, efforts were being made to increase the influence of women in Congress.

Experts' Questions and Comments

Turning to article 10, FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, said education of young children was the country's most important resource.  The country report had good data on literacy and noted a very high literacy rate.  The delegation should work with the Minister of Education on adult education programmes.

The report pointed to increased enrolment rates and a decreased dropout rate in schools, she continued.  However, it also stated that only about 30 per cent of children who started primary school finished or went past the sixth grade.  That situation was particularly problematic among indigenous children. Education should be Guatemala's highest priority, and research should be done on what was causing children to drop out of school and what happened to them afterwards.  According to the country report, there were no special programmes to help dropouts continue their education.  That must change and there should be a government initiative to do so. The country report said the number of scholarships had increased by 300 per cent.  What projects and programmes were there to increase the literacy rate and lower the dropout rate?

Ms. POPESCU SANDRU, expert from Romania, asked about the status of initiatives to reform various articles of the Labour Code with a view towards bringing Guatemala in line with international legislation.  What was being done to ensure basic labour standards for the population?  What efforts were under way to ratify Agreement 155?  The delegation stated that there were legislative initiatives involving 37 changes, such as ensuring equal pay for equal work, the rights of working women and their families, the labour rights of female agricultural workers, employment of disabled persons, and the rights of domestic workers.  What was happening with all those initiatives?

It was important that the delegation gave concrete answers about the various initiatives referring to employment legislation, she said.  Sexual harassment was not covered by the Criminal Code or the Labour Code.  The draft bill on sexual harassment in the workplace had been sent to Congress in 2002, but it had not been adopted.  Nor had the Labour Code been amended.  What was the status of the amendment to the article of the Labour Code regarding rural women, in terms of salaries and other rights?

Indigenous women's group were suffering from multiple levels of discrimination and were being denied labour rights, she stated.  According to the report by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, the situation of labour rights was still a problem.  Indigenous communities still lacked access to land resources.

Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked about the situation of the maquiladora (assembly line) industry and free trade.  The country report noted that women accounted for 69 per cent of the maquiladora industry's labour force.  They earned much less than the minimum wage, were often sexually harassed and were not protected by workers' compensation laws.  That problem in Guatemala and other parts of Central America was regrettable.  What government efforts had been made to improve the situation and what had been the result of those efforts?  Had conditions improved in the maquiladora plants?  What measures were planned for the future?  What steps did the State contemplate to address the negative impact on women of the Central American Free Trade Agreement?  Would not the free trade treaty's more flexible labour laws make it easier to exploit women?  Had the needs of poor people, particularly indigenous and rural women, not been taken into account?

Ms. AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, said the country report raised issues about reproductive and sexual health care and rights of rural and indigenous women.  She requested a statistical breakdown by ethnic group regarding mobility and mortality rates. On page 37, a table of the 2004 breakdown of women's mortality revealed that 20 per cent of those deaths were due to bronchitis and pneumonia. However, the cause of death was not given for almost 55 per cent of the cases.  Could more exhaustive information be provided on this?  Could statistical information also be provided on deaths due to illegal abortions or abortions performed by unqualified people?  Given the fact that more than 45 per cent of Guatemalan girls had their first sexual experience by the age of 12, the scope of reproductive health statistics was rather limited.  It would help the Committee to get an idea of the priority given to access to contraceptives.  While the report noted that such access was growing particularly for women ages 15 to 30, what was being done for sexually active girls under age 14?  What kind of training was there?  What kind of access was there in remote areas and in indigenous areas?

Ms. SHANTI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, said more information had been provided in the written responses and the statement made by Ms. Nuñez earlier in the session than the country report itself on article 14, concerning the issue of extreme poverty and malnutrition in rural areas.  In that regard, the country report was quite thin.  The report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food had revealed that malnutrition and extreme poverty in rural areas were due to low levels of social spending; great disparity in income distribution; limited access by the poor to land; and eviction of poor people from land and impunity for illegal convictions; Guatemala's export-oriented agriculture; and the potential adverse affects of free trade on indigenous, rural populations.

She said the delegation also had highlighted government programmes to address rural poverty and the policy of equal rights to land ownership.  Those were macro challenges in scope, but the solutions to such challenges were very micro in scope.  Did the Government have a plan or envisage a comprehensive rural development strategy to overcome major challenges such as agrarian reform, great disparity of wealth, investments in small-scale agriculture, food security and nutrition?  Such a comprehensive approach would, indeed, benefit women.  Did the national policy on food and nutrition security fulfil peoples' right to food?  Did it address structural imbalances and inequality concerning the right to food?  What plans were there to counteract the negative impact of free trade on rural populations?

Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, said the country report revealed that 59 per cent of Guatemala's 8 million people lived in extreme poverty. Four million lived in rural areas.  Women accounted for half of the Guatemalan population.  It was inferred from those statistics that more women lived in extreme poverty than men.

She said Guatemala had the highest maternal mortality rate in Latin America, and measures to help rural women so far fell far short of what was needed.  What other measures were being taken to ensure adequate health care to rural women, particularly indigenous women?  What measures were there to address land ownership and land costs?  Land issues were very critical for women.  Could the Committee be told more about the Land Fund?  How many women had access to this new dispensation for land distribution?

Country Response

Addressing the issue of literacy among women, one delegate said that illiteracy rates had decreased dramatically due to the success of literacy campaigns targeting indigenous women.  Gaps between men and women were also said to have decreased.  Enrolment in primary schools was universal, but in secondary education, gaps still existed between the enrolment of boys and that of girls.  There was a high dropout rate among the indigenous population at sixth-grade level, and the Government's current goal was to reduce that number.  Aside from tackling those problems, the Ministry of Education was also focused on increasing the quality of the country's public schools.

Regarding laws against sexual harassment and discrimination in the workforce, she said no new legislation had been passed.  Several women's organizations had submitted proposals to Congress, but their recommendations had not received a response.

Following up on that response, another delegate said that particular focus was given to women working in assembly-line factories, not only with regard to increasing their earnings, but also on improving their working conditions.  Three case studies -- on the agricultural industry, occupational health, and tourism -- had spurred the convening of advisory panels to deal further with labour law reform.

Responding to Ms. Arocha Dominguez's questions on the reproductive health of women, another delegate explained that a programme had been developed by the Health Ministry to provide support and advice on family planning methods and to provide post-abortion counselling.  A programme to provide sexual education to young people was also being developed.

On whether Guatemala had a national rural development policy, another delegate said that one had existed since 2004, soliciting action from government bodies, civil society, academics and the private sector.  Topics such as efficiency of food production and food security were dealt with under that policy, as was reducing malnutrition among women and girls.  Disagreement had arisen on some items, she said, but they continued to be discussed within the framework of a national dialogue.

The question of labour issues was further addressed by another delegate, who said that an authority had been set up to prevent labour conflicts in 2002 and to raise awareness on international labour standards pertaining to women.  It was a tripartite organization involving trained labour inspectors, heads of enterprises, sector chiefs and workers. In addition, data was collected on labour law violations, and it had been found that violence against women was more prevalent than violence against men, she said.  Laws existed to punish businesses found guilty of labour violations, though no sanctions had yet been imposed.

Also, as a result of mediation by the Ministry of Labour, trade unions had been set up involving the active participation of women workers.  An International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention prohibiting sex harassment and child labour had been ratified, and steps had been taken to reserve 20 posts for persons with disabilities within the Ministry.  A National Safety Council had been set up to help train businesses on safety in the workplace.

Regarding salaries, she said that the minimum wage in Guatemala was determined by the National Salary Commission and reviewed every two years.  The last such review had taken place in 2005 and had come into force in January 2006.

Regarding the indigenous population, the Ministry had trained leaders on the rights of indigenous peoples through its department of indigenous peoples.  Concerning social benefits for those living on a subsistence economy, she said they were given food aid, and a body had been established to provide legal advice.  Laws guaranteeing their access to credit had also been created, to assist with their integration into the mainstream economy.

Another delegate added that new laws would only be effective if people knew about them.  Thus, reform of the labour code required coordination with the women's movement in order to be successful.  That was also true for reforms to the penal code, such as in the case of sexual harassment laws.

The Vice-Minister of Health made clear that the country's policies, as a matter of priority, had addressed issues of infant and maternal mortality.  Politically, Guatemala sought to promote a strategy that extended health coverage for mothers and babies, and improved its quality.  Indeed, in two years, standards had been upgraded.  Guatemala also sought to encourage the participation of civil society and community organizations and local governments in the effort.  Through the formulation of a number of new regulations, efforts were being made to promote public health at the community level.

She said the expanding coverage was also aimed at rural areas, for which budget increases had been approved.  Programmes were specifically targeted in areas where maternal morbidity was the highest, such as among indigenous populations, and in the north of the country, where work had intensified since the start of the year.  Obstetric and emergency services were also being provided around-the-clock, and excellent results had already been achieved in reducing maternal mortality.  In addition, 4,500 medical personnel had been trained to improve the quality of the health services for pregnant women.

Responding to questions about the reproductive health programme, she explained that the new programme would, in the future, be financed as part of the Health Ministry's regular budget.  For the time being, the Ministry was relying on subsidies and gifts.  A new law on contraception guaranteed universal access to contraceptives, and a network of services had been set up for that purpose, which included the creation of 1,500 new health units where contraceptives were distributed.  She reiterated that the main priority in the national health agenda was reducing maternal mortality.

Addressing questions about education, the Education Minister said that, in 10 to 15 years, she hoped to see an increase in school attendance and a decrease in the number of dropouts, particularly in the first and second grades.  She was seeking to establish a pre-primary school, but she was presently lacking the means with which to do so.  A programme called "Save the First Grade", however, had begun.  Its aim was to make teachers aware of the importance of successful study, beginning in the earliest years.  The incidence of dropout was due mainly to financial reasons; children had to work.  The Government had undertaken campaigns to make families, particularly fathers, aware of the importance of education, especially for their daughters.

She noted that a percentage of the education budget had been used to recruit 80,000 children from various indigenous ethnic groups, and enrol them in school.  The Ministry was seeking to ensure that no child in Guatemala was left behind.  Scholarships for girls had been extremely successful, including as an incentive, because once girls were in school they had a lower dropout rate than boys.  She understood the importance of education for life and for the integrated development of the country.  Guatemala understood that profound reforms were required, including in the area of education, in order to achieve development.  She also understood that women must be empowered to make choices for themselves and their families.

Experts' Comments and Questions

ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, noting that the Department for Women was setting up a system in the metropolitan area for women in the labour market with individual complaints, asked about the most common types of rights violations in the garment industry.  She understood that there had been dismissals due to pregnancy and breastfeeding, and that women had experienced physical and verbal mistreatment in the workplaces, as well as illegal wage deductions and illegal suspensions.  She had also learned that women had been forbidden annual leave, had been forced to work overtime, and had not received the necessary social security certificates.  In all, some 1,147 complaints had been received from women and only 600 from men.  What actions had been taken so far to penalize the employers?

A country representative said a unit of inspectors had been established with special expertise in the garment industry.  In all spheres of work, there were violations of the labour laws, but she agreed that a great number of workers had reported violations in that particular field.  Thus, the relevant Ministry had thought it was necessary, not only to train those workers, but also to instruct them in labour law and consequent prosecutions in the event of violations.  In order to monitor the situation and prevent recidivism, a system of enforcement had been put in place, and individual complaints could be heard at either regional or departmental headquarters.  (She provided specific data between 2004 and 2005 on the numbers of individual complaints from women, including some information about their age and whether or not they were indigenous or "non-indigenous" women).

In terms of punishing the transgressors, she said that the Constitutional Court in November 2004 had declared that administrative action in that regard was unconstitutional.  The situation was presently being discussed within the Commission of Labour in an effort to evolve a flexible mechanism for applying justice in the case of labour law transgressions.

Focusing her concerns on articles 15 and 16 of the Convention, HUGETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, expert from Benin, said that violence against women generally had its roots in the subordination of women.  A large number of women murdered by their husbands occurred after women lodged complaints about poor treatment by their husbands.  The younger the women, the more vulnerable they were to abuse and violent acts against them.  The representative had acknowledged that the path to justice was a difficult one.  To that, she stressed that that path must be made "really smooth" for women.  That process must be facilitated; women, especially indigenous women, must be provided with the necessary legal aid and assistance.  Legal rules and principles for providing evidence must be equal for women and men.

She asked several more questions, including whether there was any legal guarantee to implement a decision concerning alimony, and whether a woman needed her husband's permission to take up activities outside the home.  In past periodic reports presented by Guatemala, the experts had been concerned about the marriage age.  She wanted to know whether marital law had been amended, or whether the "legal door was still open for marriage under the age of 16" if the person exercising parental authority or guardianship gave his/her consent.  If so, that still contravened the Convention.  Twelve years had elapsed since Guatemala had first reported to the Committee.  That was why the expert was "pleading" the case of girls and urging the Guatemalan Congress to "close that door on forced marriage", with the consequences being school dropouts, increased violence against young women, and so forth.

Country Response

In response, the country representative said the whole chapter on the family within the civil code had been "reformulated", and a provision had been made to improve the quality of life for women in the home and provide "conjugal representation" for minor women.  Laws were still pending to change the penal code further, but considerable progress had been made in that regard.  Reforms in the civil code with regard to the legal age of marriage should be discussed, but there had been a failure on the part of the Congress to do so.  A commitment to have such a dialogue, however, had been indicated.

In closing, the head of the delegation, Ms. NUÑEZ, said she had been grateful for the opportunity to present Guatemala's gains and challenges.  Undoubtedly, reporting to the Committee was "a stop along the route", which enabled the Government to consider where further efforts, legislative and otherwise, should be made.  There were some gaps, indeed, large gaps, especially in the legislative sphere, particularly with regard to violence against women.

There were still those and other challenges ahead, including in response to the experts' comments from the country's fifth periodic report.  But, "we are moving towards articulated work", she said.  The efforts made thus far and the representation before the Committee reflected the commitment and intention of the Government to work meaningfully by taking various initiatives, such as the creation of the Family Commission and efforts to reduce maternal mortality and increase women's school enrolment.

She said she appreciated the Committee's recommendations because she knew they were aimed at improving women's situation in Guatemala.  She wished to work harmoniously and in a coordinated manner with the Committee and to strengthen the political platform at home among the various political officials and institutions of the State to promote women's status.  One important aspect of that was to strengthen women's rural organizations, especially in light of the process of territorial development under way in the country.  She also recognized the need to strengthen links with civil society.  She sought to encourage the process of improving programmes and procedures relating to those things that could guarantee the best possible outcome for women in Guatemala.

Chairman's Closing Remarks

The Committee Chairperson, ROSARIO MANALO, expert from the Philippines, thanked the government representatives for their constructive dialogue with the Committee and stressed the positive spirit and objective nature of the discussion.

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