24 May 2006

Saint Lucia Delegation Leader Tells Anti-Discrimination Committee about Launch of Strategic Assault to End Violence against Women

Experts Question Failure To Ratify Protocol on Trafficking in Persons

NEW YORK, 23 May (UN Headquarters) -- As part of efforts to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Government of Saint Lucia had launched a strategic assault to end pervasive violence against women, Lera Pascal, Director of Gender Relations in that country's Ministry of Health, Human Services, Family Affairs and Gender Relations, told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today, as it continued its thirty-fifth session.

Introducing Saint Lucia's first country reports to the Committee, Ms. Pascal said that the inferior status of women and girls and the tendency to associate men and boys with power and control left the so called weaker sex vulnerable to acts of violence.  Faith-based organizations in Saint Lucia had perpetuated such attitudes and the Division of Gender Relations aimed to change those entrenched beliefs, through several programmes, including public awareness campaigns, safety and rehabilitation programmes for victims of violence and counselling for the perpetrators.  The Division had conducted domestic violence sensitization education and training for police officers, members of the judiciary, human resource managers, leaders of faith-based organizations, as well as school teachers and principals.

In October 2001, the State-run Women's Support Centre had opened its doors, to provide shelter and counselling for victims of domestic violence and their children, she said.  The following year, the Ministry of Health had launched the Men's Resource Centre Project to address the root causes of domestic violence.  The Project promoted national dialogue on gender and relationship issues, to improve people's understanding of men's responsibilities to their families and the community at large, as well as to address the daily needs and challenges faced by men.

Communities also had a role to play in fighting domestic violence, she continued.  With financing from the Canada Gender Equity Fund, the Division of Gender Relations had created the Community Response Team Project, which trained civic volunteers to intervene in domestic violence situations and educate members of their respective communities about gender-based violence.  The 1994 Domestic Violence Act afforded domestic violence victims protection from their abusers by granting one of three specific orders: protection, occupation and tenancy.  Moreover, in November 1994, Saint Lucia had acceded to the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, pioneered by the Inter-American Commission on Women of the Organization of American States.

Turning to the issue of trafficking in women, Ms. Pascal noted that the Division of Gender Relations, with funding from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), had launched several initiatives to raise public awareness of human trafficking, including training for community activists on how to detect and respond appropriately to victims.  In July, IOM would sponsor a counter-trafficking workshop for police and law enforcement officials.

However, Saint Lucia's new Criminal Code did not specifically address the issue of trafficking in persons, she said, adding that, in fact, trafficking in women had not begun to become part of the public conscience, until 2003.  People were probably reluctant to report incidents of trafficking to the authorities, and an IOM-sponsored project in 2004 had produced no evidence of trafficking in Saint Lucia.

The country's limited action to deal with trafficking of women, in particular, drew much criticism from several of the Committee's experts, who questioned why Saint Lucia had not ratified the 2000 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.  Saint Lucia's open border, and status as a popular tourist destination, made it vulnerable to trafficking and prostitution, the experts asserted.

Ms. Pascal and other members of her delegation also answered questions from Committee experts on, among other themes, the legal status of prostitution and penalties for violators; health and social services for prostitutes; family planning services, including abortion; sex education for adolescents; health-care access for rural women; family law reform; Civil Code reform; efforts to end sex-role stereotyping in tourism advertising; and equal pay and job training programmes for women.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, 24 May, to consider Malaysia's combined country report.


The Committee had before it Saint Lucia's combined initial, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth periodic report (document CEDAW/C/LCA/1-6), which highlights the country's efforts to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women from 1982 to 2002, and details the strategies, policies, legislation, progress made, future plans and stakeholders involved in implementing for each of its 16 articles.  Saint Lucia ratified the Convention in 1982, but did not commit to comply with its provisions until the 1986 creation of the Women's Desk in the Ministry of Community Development, Youth, Sports and Social Affairs.

According to the report, the Ministry of Women's Affairs is the main Government body charged with the advancement of women.  Its mission, as stated in the 1994 Report on the Status of Women, is to create an environment to redress gender imbalances through policies and programmes geared towards maximizing women's participation in, and benefit from, national socio-economic development initiatives and improve the relationship between men and women.  The Ministry's programmes aim to achieve an enhanced quality of life for women; equal outcomes for women in all areas of interest; better gender relations; improved technical advisory services for the Government and private-sector agencies, and better collaboration with them to implement programmes addressing gender inequalities and women's needs; public awareness in matters concerning gender equity and the contributions of women in national development; and improved responsiveness to women's needs and concerns through technical assistance to strengthen the capacity of non-governmental organizations to address gender issues.

The report says that the 1990-1995 Five-Year Plan of Action to improve the lot of women focused on research and data collection, education and training, policy development and monitoring, income generation, networking and counselling, as well as advocacy and outreach.  Due to difficulties faced by the Division of Women's Affairs in implementing the Plan of Action, a consultative review was conducted with funding from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). That analysis highlighted the need to strengthen institutional capacity for macro-development.  The 1994 merger of the Division of Women's Affairs with the Division of Legal Affairs, though short-lived, was seen as a step in the right direction, particularly in light of the fact that the Ministry was headed by the sole female Government minister at the time.

In 1997, the National Machinery for the Advancement of Women became part of the Ministry of Health, Human Services, Family Affairs and Gender Relations, the report states.  That same year, a National Advisory Committee on Gender and Development was appointed to advise the Minister on policy matters relating to women.  The continuous shift in the Division's focus and nomenclature over the years may have been counterproductive to the cause of women's advancement and Saint Lucia's commitment to the Convention, as evidenced by the delay in submitting an initial report, even though two reports had been prepared.

At the same time, the report notes, that, over the years, Saint Lucia has renewed and increased its commitment to eliminate discrimination against women. When a new Labour Party was elected to office in 1997, the new Government guaranteed women equality as part of its political manifesto The Contract of Faith.  That contract included provisions to ensure equal opportunity and equal pay for jobs performed by women; to expand and improve maternity and family benefits disbursed by the State; to encourage and promote women's organizations, in order to formally incorporate them in national decision-making; to review and update legislation relating to sexual harassment of women on the job; to work with the Crisis Centre in providing shelter for battered and abused women; and to help trained professional counsellors work with battered and abused women.  The contract also contained provisions to provide women with easy access to proper and affordable health care facilities; to remove all present barriers to incorporating women at all levels of decision-making; to work towards affordable childcare services for all working mothers, particularly young mothers; to ensure the creation of continued education facilities for teenage mothers; and to ensure that all women have access to education and training.

As part of the Ministry of Health for five years, the report says, the Division of Gender Relations has achieved some degree of continuity and settlement by 2002, and has come to be seen by the Saint Lucian public as the Government's core unit and authority on women's issues and gender relations.

Presentation of Reports

LERA PASCAL, Director of Gender Relations in the Ministry of Health, Human Services, Family Affairs and Gender Relations, introduced Saint Lucia's reports, saying that her country's commitment to integrity and respect for human rights had propelled the Government to accede to the Convention in 1982.  Saint Lucia's Constitution prohibited all forms of discrimination, and guaranteed fundamental rights and freedoms for all.  The delay in presenting the country reports to the Committee was not due to disinterest; on the contrary, Saint Lucia had demonstrated unwavering commitment to the Convention, through its impressive record of policies and programmes to improve the lot of women.

Prior to acceding to the Convention, Saint Lucia had universal primary education for all children, she continued.  However, until 2005, the country had been able to guarantee a secondary school place for only a small percentage of children.  Universal secondary school education would only be guaranteed beginning with the 2006-2007 academic year.  Over the years, girls had typically outperformed boys at all education levels, causing grave concern to policymakers.  Girls were encouraged to continue to excel, while efforts were made to help boys improve their scholastic performance.  Tertiary schools had shown higher registration of females than males.  The secondary school curriculum was broad-based and, increasingly, girls were pursing non-traditional subjects like engineering, woodcraft and technical drawing, among others, with equal access to training as boys.  In 2001, a comprehensive Health and Family Life Curriculum had been introduced in primary and secondary schools.

Turning to employment, she said that, in April 2000, the Government had passed the Equality of Opportunity and Treatment in Employment and Occupation Act.  It aimed to protect workers from discriminatory practices in the workplace, including gender-related discrimination.  The Act revoked the Agricultural Worker Minimum Wage Order 1972 No.12, which gave female agricultural workers lower wages than their male counterparts.  Under the new Act, it was a crime for employers and other people in positions of authority to use sexual harassment in determining treatment and opportunities for employees.

The effects of globalization and new trading regimes had negatively impacted the local banana industry, leading to a sudden loss in livelihood for women, who constituted the bedrock of the industry, she said.  Women displaced from the banana industry had subsequently found employment in the expanding tourism sector, either in hotels and resorts or with tourism-industry service providers.  Many women had found jobs in the burgeoning information and communication technology sector, particularly in telemarketing call centres and other back-office support jobs.

Regarding health, she said the Ministry had devised a comprehensive health sector reform programme that sought to revitalize and modernize the entire health care sector, in order to provide efficient, effective services.  As part of health care reform, Saint Lucia had institutionalized free universal health care provided at various health institutions throughout the country.  The Government had designed a special taxation mechanism to offset health care costs.  Women were the main users of primary health care services, particularly those concerning maternal and children's health.  In addition, the Ministry of Health was upgrading and refurbishing all health centres in rural areas.

The spread and feminization of HIV/AIDS were of grave concern to the Government, and the Prime Minister had assumed the chairmanship of the National AIDS Committee, she continued.  The Bureau of the Health Promotion in the Ministry of Health had trained several health care professionals and was offering voluntary counselling and testing services throughout the country.  Anti-retroviral treatment was provided to pregnant HIV-positive women, so as to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus.  Reproductive health was among the eight health priority areas outlined in the Health Ministry's 2005-2010 Strategic Plan.  Noting the need for improvement in health and reproductive services, she said women now had easy access to contraceptives and a range of free devices was now available at health centres and at the Saint Lucia Planned Parenthood Association, which also distributed the "morning-after" pill, free of charge.  Parental consent to obtain the pill was not necessary for girls 16 years of age and older.  While abortion was not available on demand, it was legal under the January 2005 Criminal Code, but only under certain conditions.

In terms of violence against women, she said the Government recognized the need for a strategic, multifaceted approach, involving Government and civil society, in order to address that critical social problem.  Gender was a powerful influence on human behaviour.  The inferior status of women and girls to men and boys, and the prevailing belief that associated men and boys with control and power, had made women and girls vulnerable to acts of violence.  Faith-based organizations perpetuated such attitudes.  The Division of Gender Relations aimed to change those attitudes and end violence against women through public awareness, education and sensitization; safety and rehabilitation programmes for victims of violence; and therapy for perpetrators of violence.  The Division had conducted domestic violence sensitization education and training for all ranks of the police, members of the judiciary, human resource managers in both the public and private sectors, leaders of faith-based organizations, and school principals and teachers.

In October 2001, the Women's Support Centre had been opened to provide shelter and rehabilitation for domestic violence victims, she said.  It was funded and managed by the Government, which planned to form a non-profit organization to oversee it.  The Centre offered a secure home environment and counselling for victims and their children, and helped clients rebuild their lives.  In 2002, the Ministry of Health had developed the Men's Resource Centre Project to address the causes of domestic violence.  It aimed to promote constructive national discussion on gender and relationship issues, improve understanding of gender relations and men's responsibilities to their families and the community at large, address men's daily needs and challenges, and plan interventions to clarify and initiate projects in specific areas.

Communities had a role to play in fighting domestic violence, she said. The Division of Gender Relations, with funding from the Canada Gender Equity Fund, had implemented the Community Response Team Project, which trained civic-minded volunteers from various communities to make initial interventions in domestic violence situations.  Community response teams also played a vital role in educating their communities about gender-based violence.  The 1994 Domestic Violence Act afforded domestic violence victims protection from their abusers, by granting one of three specific orders: protection, occupation and tenancy order.

In November 1994, Saint Lucia had acceded to the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, pioneered by the Inter-American Commission on Women of the Organization of American States.

While Saint Lucia's new Criminal Code did not specifically address the issue of trafficking in persons, she said, there were sections of that Code under which people involved in trafficking could be prosecuted.  In 2004, Saint Lucia had been invited to participate in a project sponsored by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), concerning human trafficking in the Caribbean.  Research had revealed no evidence of trafficking, but anecdotal evidence warranted further investigation.  The Division of Gender Relations, with funding from IOM, had undertaken several initiatives to raise public awareness of human trafficking, including training for community activists on how to detect and respond appropriately to victims of trafficking.  In July, IOM would sponsor a counter-trafficking workshop for police and law enforcement officials.

Experts' Comments and Questions

CEES FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, asked whether domestic laws found to be discriminatory were automatically nullified.  If not, how were they dealt with?  What guidelines had the judiciary been given regarding discrimination, and did they include a definition covering both direct and indirect forms of discrimination?  The very admission that certain domestic laws were seen to potentially be in conflict with the Convention implied that members of the judiciary must, at times, interpret the laws.  Had members of the judiciary and parliament been sufficiently sensitized on the topic, in addition to the public?  Also, why had the Optional Protocol not been ratified?

HANNA BEATE SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked who, aside from the Ministry, had participated in preparing the report.  Regarding the Optional Protocol, did the delegation foresee any obstacles to its ratification?  She noted that an amendment to the Convention, which regulated the Committee's meeting time, had similarly not been ratified, and urged its ratification.  Was there an operative plan attached to the Department's goals for the advancement of women and, if so, what were the results thus far?  She also asked for clarification on Contract of Faith, contained in the Labour Government Manifesto.

MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, stressed that women must be able to enjoy the benefits of the law in practical terms.  In the 20 years since the Convention's ratification, what had the Government done to bring about de facto equality between men and women?  Had there been a comprehensive analysis of national laws and, if so, what was its time frame?  In spite of sound legal principles, certain concepts may, nevertheless, subvert the intention of the law -- for example, a Saint Lucia labour law that allowed "certain exceptions to be made when a particular job requires a particular trait".  Were there any examples of how that provision had been applied so far?

Country Response

Responding to questions as to whether laws that were considered discriminatory were automatically nullified or required judicial intervention, one delegation member said that was automatic, but the Constitution must first be invoked, so that the case could appear before judicial authorities for consideration.  In cases of potential conflict between domestic and international law, where the Convention had not been ratified, the judiciary must give effect to domestic legislation.  Sensitization of the judiciary was continuing.

Regarding the Optional Protocol, another delegate said there had been no discussion, so far, of its ratification, adding that when the report was submitted to Cabinet, it had been recommended that a permanent reporting mechanism be established to deal with the Convention.  Hopefully, once established, that committee would be able to propose that the Government accede to the Optional Protocol.

Returning to the nullification of domestic laws, another representative said that, in addition to domestic legislation, Saint Lucia also relied on the common law of Commonwealth countries, particularly the United Kingdom.  In supplementing common law, some leeway was given towards giving effect to international conventions.

Responding to Ms. Schöpp-Schilling's question about the report's preparation, another delegate explained that one person from each ministry had been invited to take part, as had members of non-governmental organizations.  As for why earlier reports had not been submitted to the Committee in a timely manner, it might have been due to lack of funding, or the fact that the lead agency in preparing the report had been moved from ministry to ministry.  "It may have gotten lost and, therefore, not presented."

Regarding the Contract of Faith, she said she would respond in more detail in the afternoon, once she had had a chance to review the question more carefully.

On actions being taken to ensure de facto gender equality, another representative said that Saint Lucia had just completed a revision of its laws this month, and that the last revision had been conducted in 1957.  Individual pieces of legislation had been reviewed on an ad hoc basis and amended to ensure compliance with the Convention.

With respect to jobs with discriminatory requirements, said that women could not become priests within the Roman Catholic Church and that the teaching of catechism could not be done by someone who was not a Roman Catholic.

Experts' Comments and Questions

HUGUETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, expert from Benin, returned to the question of conflict between domestic and international law, noting that article 13 of the Saint Lucia Constitution "nullifies the effect of any law that is discriminatory in itself or in effect", asking for further clarification on this.  Could a judge base a decision on the Constitution, or would the Convention prevail in cases where the two were in conflict?

She also asked for concrete results from the review of criminal law conducted since 1999.

Country Response

In response to the question of how international conventions ranked against domestic legislation, one representative said they would be seen as "equal", but, in cases of conflict, whichever law had been implemented most recently would prevail.  However, if domestic legislation was seen to be discriminatory, it would be nullified by the courts, regardless of when it was instituted.

She said that, in January 2006, a new Criminal Code had been implemented that took into account the review of 1999.  The previous review had taken place in 1992.  The new Criminal Code addressed criminal sexual behaviour perpetrated against women, such as rape, ensuring stiffer penalties in such cases.

Experts' Comments and Questions

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, remarked that, in smaller countries, limitations in human and material resources were often felt.  Was that true for the Department of Gender Relations?  Had the Cabinet discussed its structure, function and limitations?   How did the Department plan to strengthen itself in the future?

ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, asked whether the Department had received assistance from similar bodies at the local level in carrying out its mandate, which was a "huge engineering project" to bear alone.  What challenges did the Department face regarding the ratification of the Optional Protocol?  Regarding the composition of the reporting Committee, what sort of recommendations had it made to the Government, and were they given serious consideration?

VICTORIA POPESCU, expert from Romania, expressed concern over an apparent downgrading of the women's rights machinery, noting that it had started as a ministry and had subsequently been reduced to a department, described as weak, under-staffed and poorly budgeted.  What proposals did the Department have to strengthen itself?  Was there a national strategy or action plan covering women and, if so, what were its objectives?

Country Response

Responding to those questions, one representative said that, "to be brutally frank", she, too, was "very, very concerned regarding the paucity of resources" given the Department, which she felt had been "tokenized".  The Ministry had started with five officers and was currently staffed by two persons.  It had begun as the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Women, and had then been changed to the Department of Gender Relations, with no explanation.  There seemed to have been a waning of interest with the formation of the new Government.

She said a strategy had, indeed, been drawn up for the year 2000 and beyond, covering a range of activities and programmes, upon which the Department would have liked to embark.  It had been presented to the Minister, who, at the time, had been a woman eager to see the Department moving forward.  However, that Minister had since "fallen out of grace" and been replaced by a man, who showed no interest in the Department.  In fact, she had complained to him that the Department had received no instruction from the Ministry.  The lack of resources was frustrating.  The Department had expected the services of a research officer, for which it had a "crying need", for the purpose of developing policies.  But, that request had been made in vain.  One school of thought held that the business of gender should be attended by all ministries in a piecemeal manner, but the Department felt that a unique body should be devoted to the issue.

However, another delegate added, women had begun to outpace men in schools and in the workplace, which was why a department of "gender" issues had been established in place of a ministry devoted specifically to women.

Experts' Questions and Comments

On the Convention's article 4, concerning special measures, PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked when the temporary special measures had been used in education, since their enactment in 2002.  The report did not reveal that.  Was the Government envisaging such measures in the context of article 1?  The country report said that the Government had established women's support centres for domestic violence, but those were not temporary special measures.  What more recent training programmes had been established, and how many women had benefited from the poverty reduction fund?

Country Response

A delegate said there had been no direct special temporary measures to create that balance.  Another delegate said she had no statistics on the number of women who had benefited from the poverty reduction fund.

Experts' Questions and Comments

Concerning article 5 on sex-role stereotyping and prejudices, SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked if the Government was taking measures to verbalize criticism against gender stereotyping, so as to generate public awareness.  What steps was the Government taking to deal with corporal punishment?  What steps was Saint Lucia taking to address the moral indignation over prostitution, which led to discrimination against prostitutes?

Ms. AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, requested more information on comprehensive programmes and strategies to overcome stereotypes.  What was the role of the Department of Gender Relations in overcoming them, and in promoting other gender relations?  What family planning programmes did the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education have?  Were those programmes coordinated with the Department of Gender Relations?  Were public announcements presenting men and women in non-traditional roles a result of a specific strategy, or were they isolated measures?  In publicizing tourism, had the Government taken any steps to regulate the presentation of women in non-stereotypical roles in advertisements?

MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said proactive attitudes and programmes were necessary to end domestic violence and other discriminatory attitudes and practices.  Did the Government intend to address issues under article 5 in a comprehensive way?  Did its programmes address the social implications of domestic violence and discriminatory practices?

Country Response

A delegate concurred on the need for a comprehensive programme against stereotyping.  None existed so far, but the Ministry of Education had introduced a strategy to get rid of stereotyping in school textbooks.  The Department of Gender Issues and the Ministry of Education needed to work together to expand those efforts.

Regarding corporal punishment, another delegate said the Education Act allowed it, under section 50.  In enforcing discipline in public schools and assisted schools, corporal punishment was permitted, when no other form of punishment was considered suitable and acceptable.  However, Saint Lucia intended to phase out corporal punishment, which would require changing the public's mindset.

Turning to the issue of prostitution, she said that the new Criminal Code criminalized gross indecency, the running of a brothel and attempts to prevent police access to brothels.  The intention was not just to penalize the act of prostitution, but also to penalize the financial gains associated with it.

Another delegate said there was no discrimination against prostitutes.  While the act of prostitution was illegal, prostitutes were not discriminated against because they were prostitutes.  They were not denied social, medical and educational services.

Concerning social stereotyping, another delegate said a comprehensive programme was needed to address the problem head on.  That required coordination with the Ministry of Education, but there was no programme for that, thus far.

Regarding family planning programmes, the Ministry of Health viewed reproductive health as a priority area, and it was available to all those requiring it.  Contraceptive devices were readily available at health centres, hospitals and at the Planned Parenthood Association for a nominal fee.  Tubal ligation was available and, unlike in the past, there was no law on the books that required a husband's prior consent for the procedure.  Doctors had, in fact, developed their own standard for it.

Another delegate said that legal restrictions on tubal ligation would be unconstitutional.  However, many doctors believed it was immoral, and felt uncomfortable performing it without consent from the patient's husband.  While the Government could not force doctors to perform tubal ligation without such consent, it was concerned that the service be available to women who chose not to seek consent.

Regarding attempts to promote non-traditional roles in tourism, she said the Government did not support negative portrayals of women in advertising.

Another delegation member said both men and women were portrayed as waiters and waitresses in tourism ads.  The head of the Ministry of Tourism, a woman, was featured in ads, and the experts should define the concept of a stereotypical role, so that the delegation could address that question.

Experts' Questions and Comments

HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, said the country report provided very little information on trafficking of women and prostitution.  Was the Coalition against Trafficking in Women still functioning, and who were its members?  Had it undertaken any comprehensive and systematic action to end trafficking in women?  Why had Saint Lucia not ratified the 2000 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children?  Were there any comprehensive plans for inbound and outbound trafficking of women within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) framework?  Recommending that the delegation seek international cooperation on trafficking and prostitution, she also asked whether the clients of prostitutes were punished under the law, or just the prostitutes.

Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, noting that Saint Lucia had ratified the Convention some 25 years ago, asked whether the Convention hade been invoked in court since then.  How relevant was the Convention in Saint Lucia's courts, and had there been any parliamentary debates on it?  What were the Public Prosecutor's policies regarding the new Criminal Code that made prostitution illegal, and did those policies focus on clients and brothel owners, or just the female prostitutes?  What were the implications of making prostitution illegal across the board?  Prostitution in Saint Lucia was a hidden enterprise on the rise.  Were there any public checks on the health, sanitation and education of those involved?

Country response

A delegate said that, before 2003, human trafficking had not been present in the minds of most people.  Saint Lucia had subsequently become aware of the presence of non-nationals, but was unsure whether they had been trafficked into the country.  The country had jumped at the opportunity for IOM to research trafficking.  Saint Lucians were very conservative, and might not have been willing to give information as required by researchers.  While the initial IOM-sponsored investigation had showed no evidence of trafficking at that time, authorities were aware that the country's open borders made it vulnerable, as did the tourism industry.  The Government had formed a coalition on trafficking in persons that had been invited to training seminars to discuss research findings.  Its plan of action included sensitizing people to the difference between trafficking and smuggling, as well as training nurses, policemen and others in a position to detect and respond to potential victims.

Another delegate said that trafficking was not known in Saint Lucia, and that, despite the IOM findings, the Government was not complacent and it was trying to find out if trafficking did, in fact, exist.  It was implied in prostitution that trafficking did, in fact, take place, but there was no automatic link between the two.  Regarding criminalization of prostitution, brothel ownership, the soliciting of prostitutes and the act of hindering police officers' access to brothels were criminal acts.  There were no specific legal provisions to deal with trafficking, since authorities were not familiar with it.

One delegate said that a review of the Criminal Code was under way to bring family law in line with the Convention in dealing extensively with the rights of single mothers.  The revision programme should come on stream soon.  The 2001 revision to the Criminal Code related to sexual offences had been an attempt to bring it in line with the Convention, and to appropriately address obligations under the Convention.

On the role of the Public Prosecutor in criminalizing prostitution, a delegate said that brothel owners, prostitutes and any incidents occurring in brothels were criminalized.  While the Government did not specifically address prostitutes' social concerns, they were not discriminated against on the basis of being prostitutes.  The Committee on HIV/AIDS Education had, in fact, visited places perceived to be brothels, and attempted to educate people perceived to be prostitutes.

Experts' Comments and Questions

GLENDA SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, revisited the issue of stereotypes in the tourism trade, saying that, as someone from the Caribbean, she understood the drivers of Caribbean tourism to be "sea, sun and sex".  The dignity of Caribbean women should not be negatively impacted by the lure of "exotic sex" in the region.  Turning to prostitution, she asked if the drivers for that industry were sufficiently understood in Saint Lucia to include childhood abuse and poverty.

On the view that temporary special measures were unnecessary for the advancement of women, she cautioned the delegation against "buying into" that perception.  The Government must be made to respect all the provisions of the Convention, and not be let off lightly, simply because "girls were doing well in schools".

Ms. POPESCU, expert from Romania, noted that women had held high positions in Saint Lucia's Government in the past, and asked for examples of their contributions to society.  The report described low self-esteem among women, and their being overwhelmed with family responsibilities.  What had been done to encourage shared responsibilities between men and women in the home, for example, so as to free up more time to participate fully in political life?  Was the National Council of Voluntary Women's Organizations engaged in any joint projects with the Department?

FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, commented that more use should be made of article 4 of the Convention (on special measures) in Saint Lucia.  For example, the country's senate was composed of 11 people, and affirmative action should be taken, so that those positions were held by six women and five men.  Quotas could also be instituted with respect to the number of women running for elections.  Increasing the number of women in congress would raise the number of women serving in Government.

Ms. ZOU, expert from China, referring to activities under the various national plans of action, asked about the results of Saint Lucia's plan vis-à-vis women's issues.  Did the Government intend to introduce measures to increase the number of women representing their country abroad?

Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, remarked that increasing the political participation of women did not seem to be a high priority in Saint Lucia.  An absence of women in political life seemed to be deemed women's own fault, with no proper examination of what might be driving them to think that way.  It was important to have a critical mass of female representatives in Government, in order to make their voices heard.  High-quality women in minimal numbers were not likely to have a great effect on policy.  It was not only important to introduce quotas, but also to create suitable cultural and social conditions, including raising the awareness of men.

Country Response

One representative said the country had had a Minister of Community Development in 1979, who had been the lone voice on women's issues for a long time.  Currently, there was one female parliamentarian serving that body, the youngest in the entire Commonwealth at the time of her election at 21 years old.  Unfortunately, the only other woman Member of Parliament, a Roman Catholic, had recently been dismissed for her vociferous opposition to the legalization of abortion.

It was also possible to enter the cabinet through the senate, she said, and one woman had done that in the past.  However, there was room for improvement regarding women's participation overall.  In the 2001 general elections, eight females had run in elections, the first time that so many women had offered themselves for office.  However, they had fared poorly.

She said that the Department of Gender Relations, working with a non-governmental organization in Barbados, had developed a campaign to encourage women to participate more in politics.  Another project, undertaken in conjunction with CARICOM, would provide them with the tools needed to successfully run for office.

In the "almost hostile environment we are in, with so many males", any suggestion to impose quotas would not receive a favourable response, she said.  But, under the upcoming constitutional reform programme, where the Prime Minister planned to seek recommendations from the public, the Department planned to propose changes to the electoral system from a first-past-the-post system to one of proportional representation, so that the onus to secure victory no longer fell on the candidate, but on the party.

Regarding umbrella bodies dealing with women's organizations, she said that Saint Lucia had two of them, and the Department of Gender Relations was working hard to encourage cooperation between them.  There had been no joint projects so far, but they frequently assisted one another where the need arose.

When advertising for tourism, another delegate noted, the focus in Saint Lucia had always been geography and landmarks, rather than sex.  Also, those who engaged in prostitution came from outside the island and would only stay for two to three weeks.  It was difficult, therefore, to police or monitor them.

On women's participation in Government, she said women were permanent secretaries in six ministries, outnumbering men.  Specialized areas within those ministries were also frequently headed by women.  That was also true of the judiciary; her own count of Supreme Court judges showed an equal number of men and women.

Continuing on the subject of women's participation in politics, the delegate said that women in Saint Lucia held high-ranking political positions on the opposition bench, as well.  The Minister for Gender Affairs, for example, was the head of the opposition political party and two women were planning to contest in upcoming opposition party elections.

Experts' Comments and Questions

On education, Ms. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, noting that secondary school education would soon be made compulsory, pointed out that children in the Caribbean must usually undergo an examination before being admitted to secondary school.  Would that remain true in Saint Lucia?  Also, girls were overrepresented in traditionally "female" subjects, while boys tended to take up science and engineering subjects.  Was anything being done to rectify that situation?

She said that pregnant girls were made to leave the school system, which seemed to be a form of punishment.  Had the Government ever contemplated a parallel programme for such girls?  Finally, were boys also made to drop out if they made a girl pregnant?  Was there any data on who made those girls pregnant?  If they were found to be older men, were they punished for having relations with under-aged girls?  Why did the law treat men differently for having sexual relations with girls under the age of 12, as compared with those who had sexual relations with girls between the ages of 12 and 16 years?

She also asked whether studies had been done to ascertain why schools in Saint Lucia were not successful in educating boys.  Surely, girls should not be held back because boys did not seem to be doing well.

Country Response

Responding to the question on compulsory secondary education, one delegation member explained that the policy was the result of an election promise to provide a secondary school place to every Saint Lucian child, beginning in September 2006.  Normally, students would sit a common entrance exam before entering secondary school.  Now, that exam would not function as an entrance exam, as such, but more as a placement exam, where the best results would assure a place in the best schools.

She said girls were more inclined to study English literature, food and nutrition, and other such subjects; teachers did not pressure students to take up one discipline over another, and there were no plans to provide scholarships on the basis of gender.

On pregnancy, she said there were no regulations preventing pregnant girls from attending school, but, perhaps due to criticism from the adults around them or to shame, many tended to drop out.  However, parents were indeed sending pregnant girls to school, since children below the age of 16 must attend school, whether they were pregnant or not.  It was suspected that girls became pregnant by older men, though more research was required to ascertain if that was true.

Another delegate, responding to the question regarding sexual offences and why the law distinguished between minors below the age of 12 and those between 12 and 16 years, explained that, according to the Act, even if the man honestly believed a girl to be of age, it still did not represent a defence if the girl was below 12 years of age.  It was also true that 12 was the minimum age limit for marriage.

Regarding why boys did not do well in school, the other delegate said that secondary schools used to be primarily staffed by men, but that had changed, leaving boys with no male role models.  Also, a study conducted by the Ministry of Education had shown that the teaching style of female teachers affected boys and girls differently.

Experts' Comments and Questions

FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, noted that half the children in Saint Lucia were unable to proceed to secondary school or chose to drop out.  Was research being conducted on why that was happening?

Regarding nationality, she noted that a foreign husband of a Saint Lucian woman did not automatically receive Saint Lucian citizenship.  It was understood that a review of the Citizenship Act would soon take place to revise that law.  Was there a time frame for the review?

Country Response

Regarding secondary school attendance, one of the delegates said that the number had risen to 75 per cent, since the report was written.  The Government was in the process of building two new secondary schools, in time for September 2006, in the effort to provide a place for every child.

As for the Citizenship Act, another delegation member said that a commission had been appointed to study its implications, but the review would take time.  In the meantime, however, the Act was being revised independently of the commission.

Experts' Comments and Questions

Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, reiterated her question about the Labour Party Government's Contract of Faith, guaranteeing women their equality.  In terms of Saint Lucia's constitutional review, were there plans to add an explicit provision allowing, or mandating when necessary, the application of temporary special measures for the advancement of women?

She said that the national machinery on women must have access to the Cabinet, in order to bring forward recommendations.  For example, it was important to refer to both direct and indirect discrimination in a country's constitution, which should be the work of the national machinery.  Had the wages of nurses and teachers reached parity with other jobs in the public sector?

Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked whether job evaluations were conducted in the public sector and, if so, how they were conducted, and whether the Department was involved.  What was the extent of unionization in Saint Lucia, and what was the level of female participation?  Ignorance of labour rights had been cited as a reason for the lack of enjoyment of those rights.  What had been done to educate people on their labour rights?  Was there a labour inspectorate to enforce those rights?  Were maternity protection rights, for example, being observed?  What was the situation of indigenous women in the labour sector?

Country Response

Regarding temporary special measures as a provision of the Constitution, one of the delegates agreed on the merits of such a provision and asked for a copy of the German Constitution for use as a model.  To date, however, a broad definition of discrimination was thought to allow adequately for prosecution in cases of both direct and indirect discrimination.

On labour rights, she said a system was in place to provide legal aid to people in labour disputes.  So far, the courts had not seen sexual harassment charges or anything similar.

Following up on that response, another delegate said that the public sector used a system of job classification, whereby, for example, "grade 12" candidates, no matter from what industry -- whether teaching, nursing or others -- would receive the same salary.

Experts' Questions and Comments

DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, noted that Saint Lucia was a deeply religious country and the Catholic Church was very powerful there.  What policies were there to promote contraceptive use and condoms, particularly to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS?  How easily accessible were HIV/AIDS drugs?  In addition, Saint Lucia's country report stated that there was a Government proposal to make it a crime for an HIV-positive person or AIDS carrier to have sex with someone who did not have the disease, without disclosing his/her HIV/AIDS status.  What were Saint Lucia's policies regarding disclosure and non-disclosure in that regard?

SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, said that, in critical health areas, such as HIV/AIDS and cervical cancer, women still seemed to be at a huge disadvantage.  Those were not just medical issues; a health system's ability to respond to domestic violence, HIV/AIDS and cervical cancer was crucial.   Saint Lucia's Government must determine why young women, in particular, were contracting cervical cancer.  Abortions were performed frequently, and the teen birth rate was high.  Was abortion being used as an alternative to contraception?  Could the delegation provide statistics on maternal morbidity in relation to abortion?  Were most abortions performed under unsafe conditions?  Did schools have sex education programmes to ensure that young women developed particular knowledge of sexually transmitted diseases and contraception?

Ms. PIMENTAL, expert from Brazil, noted that abortion had been legalized in 2003 under limited circumstances, but was widely performed in Saint Lucia, mostly under unsafe circumstances.  In what cases did the law permit abortion?  What plans did the Government have to avoid the significant risks posed by strict laws, particularly to poor women unable to obtain safe abortions?

Ms. SHANTI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, asked if the Committee's health recommendations were being used.  Women's health encompassed all aspects of social and psychological needs, not just the special needs of women.  They responded differently from men to treatments for the same diseases.  The country report said that women accounted for 62 per cent of deaths due to diabetes, and that the rate of heart disease was higher among women than men.  Did the health sector address those differentials?

In terms of children born with low birth weights, what was the state of prenatal and postnatal health care? she asked.  Alternative sources given to the Committee had revealed a lack of childbirth facilities in district hospitals.  The country report indicated that rural health centres were not equipped to handle complications during delivery.  How did the Government plan to improve access to obstetric care? Could the delegation provide statistics on the delivery of obstetric services?

The report said that the negative attitudes of youth towards family planning services had contributed to the high teen pregnancy rate, she went on.  Did health sector reform include adolescent-friendly and adolescent-sensitive clinics?  What studies had been conducted to assess the nature and extent of adolescent health problems?

Country response

One delegate said the Government's position on contraceptive use was that people were free to use whatever contraceptive they deemed suitable.  Most Saint Lucian women were Roman Catholic, but many used condoms and other forms of contraception.

She said that pregnant women had access to antiretroviral drugs to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission.  The Government had launched a serious attack on AIDS, and drugs were available, free of charge, to anyone with the disease.  Voluntary confidential HIV/AIDS testing was also free.  People deemed HIV-positive were referred for medical treatment and counselling, and all records were kept confidential.

Regarding the proposal in the new Criminal Code that would make it a crime for one to knowingly infect another with HIV/AIDS, another delegate said the proposal had, in fact, been passed, and was now part of the Criminal Code.

Another delegate said that not enough research had been done on the prevalence of cervical cancer in young women.  That warranted more serious attention, particularly since studies had revealed that the disease usually resulted from early initiation into sexual activity.

She said that abortion was, in fact, used as a method of family planning, but the law did not allow abortion on demand.  If a young girl found herself pregnant, she could try to solicit an illegal abortion.  Girls suffering from botched abortion would not be denied treatment at hospitals.

Another delegate cited an incident, in which police had investigated the sex partner of an under-aged teenage student who had suffered from a botched, illegal abortion.

She said the State recognized the rights of women wishing to have children within or out of wedlock.  Most children, in fact, were born out of wedlock. Family law granted equal treatment to all women.

Rural health centres were not equipped to handle women experiencing complications during pregnancy, she continued.  Pregnancy was monitored, so that women at risk for complications would be sent to a hospital, well in advance of delivery, so they could be treated accordingly.  During emergencies, pregnant women were accepted at hospitals and other arrangements were made for their safety.  Transport was available to get women to health-care facilities, where they could receive the necessary care.

Regarding school sex education programmes, she said clinics did provide services for adolescents.

ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, remarked that 70 per cent of the female population lived in rural areas, where life was characterized by poor sanitary conditions, and a lack of piped water and garbage disposal.  How much of the country's budget had been set aside to restructure the rural economy, and how had circumstances changed due to the restructuring?  Did rural women have a voice in the decision-making process?  Did rural women have access to hospitals, since the two biggest were located in urban areas?

Ms. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, asked about rural women who had lost their jobs in the banana industry, which was now in "great trouble".  Had they been retrained?  Was it possible that some of them had been lured into prostitution?  Were women offered alternative employment, such as in road-building, for example?

Country Response

One delegate explained that Saint Lucia was only 238 square miles in size, so the concept of "rural" was different from that in bigger countries.  The term tended to be used to describe people in the agricultural sector.  The conditions described by the expert had been prevalent 20 years ago, but were no longer true.  Some 70 per cent of people in those areas now received piped water, for example.

The second representative said that, while no budget was allocated to the "rural" population as such, they were, nevertheless, receiving attention in terms of education, for example.  Also, special accommodation arrangements had been made for both men and women through the PROUD programme (Programme for the Regulation of Unplanned Development), whereby squatters were allowed to purchase land at subsidized prices.  All legal documents for the acquisition of property under that programme were being met by the Attorney-General's Chambers.

Regarding workers displaced from the dwindling banana industry, the first delegate said there were programmes to teach them new skills, such as in information technology.  They were also taught to grow small crops, like peppers, which they sold to the island's hotels.

The second delegate added that they had not been discouraged from staying in the agricultural sector, but rather encouraged to engage in agricultural diversification.

Experts' Comments and Questions

Ms. GNACADJA, expert from Benin, asked about the validity of a provision in the Civil Code that called for a wife's obedience to her husband.  Also, in the case of litigation involving the married couple and a third party, was it true that only a man could have the power of administration over community property?

She asked why the country's divorce laws left no room for divorce by mutual consent (sometimes called a no-fault divorce), noting that the current law, where an individual could claim that they could "no longer live with the respondent, as a result of the respondent's behaviour pattern", would affect women more adversely than men, in a climate where prejudices against women were so strong, and where female behaviour patterns could easily be deemed by judges as intolerable, simply because of their own prejudices.  Finally, she asked, since children born to unmarried parents were considered illegitimate, what of children that resulted from common-law unions?

Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, noted that women were bound by their role as primary care givers in the family, limiting their opportunities to build a career.  What was being done to address that?  Also, why was only the father's name put on a child's birth certificate?  Regarding spousal abuse, she noted that police stations were understaffed, making it difficult to protect victims of domestic violence.  There were also long delays in processing of domestic violence cases in the courts.  How did the Government intend to deal with those problems?  She also asked for details regarding training on domestic violence for members of the police and the judiciary.

Ms. KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, said that the Civil Code provision that bound a wife to obey her husband invariably, limited her rights, including reproductive rights, and might even subject her to marital rape.  The Civil Code should be made consistent with the Convention's provisions regarding marriage and family life.

On the decreasing population growth rate, she asked if that was the result of a deliberate population policy or whether it had to do with the rising rate of abortion.  She also praised the reported elimination of the term "illegitimate", in describing children born out of wedlock.

Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, noted that common-law unions were recognized in certain parts of Saint Lucia.  For example, in the case of survivor's benefits, the national insurance schemes recognized benefits issued to people in common-law unions that lasted longer than five years.  But courts did not recognize such unions, as in cases of property inheritance upon the death of one partner.  How were such inconsistencies reconciled?

Regarding "legitimate" versus "illegitimate" children, she asked how a child born out of a common-law union would be considered, especially for the purposes of determining the right to inheritance.  And, since the Civil Code contained provisions dealing with single women, would common-law wives be considered single?

Country Response

Responding to Ms. Khan, one delegation member said that the law still distinguished between legitimate and illegitimate, but there was a move to eliminate the use of those terms soon.

Another delegate admitted that some laws in the Civil Code were antiquated and reflected the strong Catholic position of the country in 1956, the last date of law review.  But those laws were being reviewed again, which would involve a series of national consultations, and that the review would be completed by the end of next year.  Laws under review touched upon such things as property rights and the rights of married women where the spouse had children outside the marriage.

Regarding divorce, she said the law would soon include provisions for no-fault divorce.  National consultations had shown that the preferred method was a divorce based on fault, but hopefully a second round of consultation would bring about a different perspective.  Common-law unions were not given legal status under the present law, and the National Insurance Scheme was the only piece of legislation that acknowledged such unions.  The current law reform was not targeted towards legalizing those unions, rather, they sought to untangle questions involving property rights.  For instance, in long-running common-law unions, what happened to the children, for example?  Could a married man conduct a common-law relationship, while legally married?  In light of the Divorce Act, property after marriage would be deemed community property, but how would that change if a man also conducted a common-law union on the side?

As for the naming of the father on the birth certificate, she said that, if unmarried, the father must present himself to the registry before his name was entered.

On the failure of police to prosecute in cases of domestic violence, she said that work to educate the police on such matters was ongoing.  Such education was needed because the police tended to view them as common law disputes and not criminal acts.

The other delegate added that non-governmental organizations were also active in that area, and had embarked on training programmes for various levels of the police force.  Although results were slow in coming, the police were beginning to understand the serious nature of domestic violence.

Regarding the decreasing population growth rate, she said it could be due to the current HIV/AIDS campaign and the promotion of condom use, but more research was needed.

Regarding the question on the Contract of Faith, she said most of the points had been taken into consideration.  They included such things as: to ensure that women had equal opportunity and equal pay for jobs performed by them; review and update legislation relating to sexual harassment of women on the job; and work with the women's crisis centres to provide shelter for battered and abused women and others.

In wrapping up the dialogue, ROSARIO MANALO, expert from the Philippines and Committee Chairperson, said that, despite efforts to bring the Convention's provisions to life, discrimination against women was still practised in Saint Lucia, as was evident in the continuing violence against women, dearth of women in decision-making positions, and the lack of law reform, particularly in family law.  She looked forward to seeing the Civil Code reformed in favour of women by the end of next year, but, until those new laws were enacted and implemented, discrimination would continue.  Nevertheless, she congratulated the delegation for their efforts and thanked them for engaging in the day's constructive dialogue.

Ms. PASCAL, head of the Saint Lucia delegation, thanked the Committee for its input and support, and assured its members that there would be no further delays in the submission of future reports.

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