9 August 2006

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee Considers Report of Democratic Republic of Congo

Delegation Highlights Constitutions Explicit Provisions to Ensure Gender Equality, but Acknowledges Limitations in Country Emerging from Conflict

NEW YORK, 8 August (UN Headquarters) -- A new constitution adopted in February contained explicit provisions to ensure equality between men and women, but, legislation only went so far in a nation emerging from an armed conflict that had exacerbated violence against women and eroded the country's economic and social fabric, the representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was told today.

The Committee considered the report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in one of two concurrently running meetings during the first week in a three-week session to consider individual country reports in an open process called a constructive dialogue.  The process is intended to recognize State progress in implementing the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and to identify concerns about limited or insufficient adherence to those.  Committee experts also offer recommendations for addressing challenges and applying the Convention at the national level.

Presenting the report was Vasika Pola Ngandu, Secretary-General of the Democratic Republic's Ministry on the Status of Women and the Family.  Also representing the 28-member Democratic Republic delegation were Kamwanya Biayi Esther, Director of the Ministry's Cabinet and Nduku Booto of the country's Mission to the United Nations.

As detailed in the 2004 report, the magnitude of familiar forms of violence against women, such as rape, was at an astonishing level in the Democratic Republic of the Congo while new forms were emerging, including amputations, mutilations and live burials.  The report also cited a 2002 Human Rights Watch report on sexual violence as a weapon of war, as background for occurrences in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The delegation presenting the report today stressed steps the Ministry had taken to counter the violence, including the establishment of an inter-agency multisectoral rehabilitation programme to address the physical and psychological consequences of war-related and other forms of violence.  Projects had been undertaken to publicize the truth about what had happened, and reforms had been initiated to strengthen the capacity of the administration of justice system so as to prevent impunity.  Outreach programmes informed women of their rights under the law and increased their access to legal protections of their rights.

Regarding the broader framework of restoring national stability for the full enjoyment of women's rights as enshrined in the Convention, the delegation said technical and steering committees had been set up to integrate the advancement of women's rights with other development goals.  Ministries worked closely together to secure funding through diverse development channels for the benefit of women.

Legal efforts to implement the Convention were continuing with bills submitted to parliament, the delegation continued.  Progress had been made in areas such as combating husbands' objections to women's working, or ensuring that maternal leave was no longer a valid reason for firing a woman from her job.  Marriage rights were being re-evaluated, and an ad hoc committee was looking at provisions of the Family Code to update it with amendments to bring it more into line with international standards.  Other statutes being revised related to parental authority, adultery and opportunities for married women.

The reality, however, was that implementation of legal safeguards was hampered by social conditions.  Two decades of conflict had not created a favourable environment for jobs, as an example, regardless of the Government's commitment to ensuring employment opportunities for men, women and youth.  Prostitution was another case in point.  Open prostitution was now outlawed, but, the "hidden prostitution" promoted by need was harder to eradicate.  There were no longer legislative obstacles to women's involvement in politics but an obstacle remained in terms of women's lower status and their low level of involvement.

The solution was multi-faceted and required the coordinated involvement of all relevant elements, the delegation concluded.  In the instance of increasing women's presence in the political arena, efforts were focused on increasing awareness of political issues, strengthening women's capacities to make them more competitive and countering negative attitudes through awareness campaigns,

On the advancement of other rights and equalities, the delegation said the Government had established focal points and gender networks between parliament and non-governmental organization.  The Ministry had set up cooperative arrangements with organizations along the 10 thematic groupings as set out in the Beijing platform.  The Ministry was also coordinating with other ministries to advance women's rights and mainstream their concerns into development programmes.  It worked closely with the Women's Rights Council to safeguard women's rights.

The Committee will meet again in Chamber B at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, 9 August, when it is expected to take up Ghana's report.


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to consider the combined fourth and fifth periodic report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (document CEDAW/C/COD/4-5).  The report submitted in November 2004 focuses on steps taken by the Transitional Government to restore stability to the country following the April 2003 signing of the Transitional Constitution, in the wake of the deterioration of the economic and social fabric resulting from wars in 1996 and 1998.  Among other measures, the Government was called on to take steps to restore national reunification and achieve lasting peace; to improve the economy and to find solutions to problems caused by war, including massive population displacement, destruction of housing, infrastructure and the environment, and the rapes and violence perpetuated against women.

With respect to women, the report says that, the Constitution calls for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against them and for measures to advance their rights, including by ensuring respect for those rights.  The Constitution also calls on the State to take measures to ensure the full participation of women in all areas, to combat violence against them, and to ensure the right of women to be significantly represented in institutions at all levels.

However, the report continues, a remaining challenge of achieving women's rights is to eliminate earlier discriminatory provisions from legislative texts.  The major difficulty in that connection is to achieve a change in attitudes among political leaders, as well as in society and among women themselves.  The focus, in the report, is largely on policies to end discrimination, analysis of legal texts, in the context of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and measures taken to implement the Convention, along with obstacles to implementation.

The report recommends that the Government rid the legal arena of distortions that hinder the Conventions implementation.  It also calls for the allocation of adequate funding for the Ministry on the Status of Women and the Family, and achieving a level of 30 per cent representation of women in decision-making during the transitional process.  In addition, it recommends for the dissemination of legislative texts and for the building of capacity to collect and analyse data.  Further, the Government is asked to consolidate peace countrywide, in order to kick-start the national economy and thereby curb the growing poverty.  It is urged to establish, as a matter of utmost urgency, a national programme to combat sexual violence against women, and it is called on to support the national board responsible for censoring degrading images of women.  Further, the report promoted implementation action of the national strategies to mainstream the gender perspective in development activities.

Further, the report recommends that non-governmental organizations and other associations seeking women's advancement work together in thematic groups and networks to make their actions more effective.  It calls on them to step up their awareness-raising and advocacy activities, as well as their efforts to encourage people to reject stereotypes and mindsets reinforcing women's inferiority.

Finally, the report encourages women, themselves, to assure their place as men's equals and partners, to invest in educating their children about gender issues and to make an effort to change their own attitudes.  The report calls on organizations promoting bilateral and multilateral cooperation to step up support for the Women's Ministry and to support the National Programme for Women, so as to enable them to make a greater impact.

Introduction of Report

Presenting the country's report was the head of the delegation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Vasika Pola Ngandu, Secretary-General of the Ministry on the Status of Women and the Family.  Also speaking on behalf of the 28-member delegation were Nduku Booto of the Democratic Republic's Mission to the United Nations and Kamwanya Biayi Esther, Director of the Cabinet within the Ministry.

In her introduction, Ms. Ngandu noted that a new constitution had been adopted in February and the new legal instrument contained explicit provisions for emphasizing the State's responsibility in ensuring the equality of men and women, even during the transitional period, as the country recovered from conflict.  Steps had already been taken to ensure that institutions during the transitional period reflected that equality as a priority.

She said steps had also been taken to promote gender integration at all levels of society, including through awareness-raising campaigns.  Focal points and gender networks had been established between parliament and non-governmental organizations.  The Ministry itself had established close cooperative arrangements with organizations along the 10 thematic groupings, as set out in the Beijing platform.

The Ministry faced restrictions because of funding, she said, receiving at present only one per cent of the national budget.  But, assistance provided by aid partners had facilitated the work that promoted respect for the Convention as the basis of activities.  Anti-discriminatory measures had been put in place to guarantee women rights in areas such as combating husbands' objections to women's working, or ensuring that maternal leave was no longer a valid reason for firing a woman from her job.  Marriage rights were being re-evaluated and an ad hoc committee was looking at provisions of the family code to update it with amendments that brought it more into line with international standards.  Other statutes being re-evaluated were related to parental authority, adultery and opportunities for married women.  The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was a guideline.

She said legal restrictions to women's rights had not all been eliminated yet.  Maternity was not recognized as a social function, for example, and while a woman's right to nationality was now recognized, equality under land-tenure law did not apply to married women.  But, legislation related to elections did not allow discrimination, and the State was not only charged with fighting discrimination, but was bound to that responsibility by a constitutional provision on the principle of gender equality.  Women's access to civil service was, therefore, constitutionally ensured, as was full participation in the country's civil, political and cultural arenas and in development activities.  Women were also constitutionally protected against violence, but, it was still up to women to fight for their rights.

Regardless of remaining legal distortions, she said the Government was committed to eliminating discriminatory legal provisions despite real obstacles in re-establishing stability.  For example, two decades of conflict had not created a favourable environment for jobs, but, the Government was committed to ensuring employment opportunities for men, women and youths.  Measures taken toward that end included awareness-raising campaigns and microfinance arrangements.  Campaigns were also being implemented to counter discriminatory customs and to build the capacities of women.  Increased outreach through the recruitment of women journalists, for example, had accelerated progress.

She said trafficking in women was not a big problem in her country, but, even so, the Government was participating in regional measures to curb the practice.  A workshop on the issue had been held in Abuja, in July.

On other forms of violations of women's rights, she said legislation could only go so far.  Laws had been enacted to outlaw open prostitution, for example, but, a "hidden prostitution" promoted by need was harder to eradicate.  Similarly, while there were no legislative obstacles to women's involvement in the political realm, a social obstacle remained in terms of lower status for women in politics and regarding their low level of involvement.  The solution was to promote increased awareness of political issues and to strengthen the capacities of women to make them more competitive, including in the international area where 10 women were involved to every 50 men except in relation to women's forums.  Negative parental attitudes regarding schooling of girls were being addressed with the help of United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) through a campaign and, by funding to defray the costs of schooling.

Outlining steps, the Ministry had taken to counter violence against women, she said a sexual emergency rehabilitation programme had been developed and was being implemented in the provinces to deal with the physical and psychological results of war-related and other kinds of violence.  The inter-agency, multisectoral programme provided health and psychological services for women, not only in Kinshasa, but, in the five republics particularly affected by war.

In conclusion, she said the Ministry had set up a technical committee and a steering committee to integrate the advancement of women's rights with other development goals.  The Ministry worked closely with other ministries, such as with the Ministry of Rural Aid, in securing funding through diverse development channels for the benefit of women.  And, while legal efforts to implement the Convention continued with bills already submitted to parliament, the support of other women was paramount in efforts to change entrenched attitudes.

Expert Questions on Legal Measures

As the Committee began its article-by-article consideration of the implementation of the Convention by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the experts focused on legal reform, temporary special measures for the advancement of women and national gender equality machinery, as well as the role of women and sexual stereotypes in the country.

The members of the Committee said the report was characterized by frankness and openness.  It was clear that the country, emerging from crisis, was still encountering many difficulties in its efforts, and the experts commended the Government for its efforts to promote gender equality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo under such circumstances.

Several speakers also noted that the report presented to the Committee had been prepared by a consultant and did not follow the established reporting guidelines.  In particular, the document contained recommendations by the Government, which seemed to be directed at the Government itself.

CEES FLINTERMAN, an expert from the Netherlands, noted that the new Constitution had replaced the transitional one in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In that connection, he wondered if the judiciary, including the sitting judges, was aware of international civil rights conventions, including the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  He also addressed the definition of the term "discrimination", asking if the Government intended to enact a general law on gender equality.  It was important to not only prohibit discrimination, but also, to make remedies available to women under the legal system.  He also had a question regarding the role of women in peacebuilding efforts.

HEISOO SHIN, an expert from the Republic of Korea, said the country could benefit from the well-established international legal standards, and recommended that temporary special measures be introduced to accelerate de facto equality.  She wondered about the timetable for bringing about anti-discriminatory laws and wanted to know if an evaluation of the measures that had already been introduced had been undertaken.  So far, the Government's efforts seemed "scattered" and a more coordinated and streamlined approach was needed.

SHANTHI DAIRIAM, an expert from Malaysia, noted strong the constitutional provisions for equality and elimination of discrimination against women.  Despite that de jure situation, there was not much indication in the report as to how de facto realization of equality would be implemented.  The report indicated that further legislation was needed, and it was discouraging that the committee working on the legal reform was not really operational.

Her other concern was the content of the reform itself, she continued.  While good principles of parity were being introduced in such new laws as the election legislation, other existing provisions did not compel their realization.  Also, the law did not act as a deterrent to sexual harassment in the workplace, because there was no punishment to the perpetrators.  The priorities of the country were reconstruction and transition, but, such transition should not entrench social inequality.  Was there any plan to raise awareness of the critical importance of managing the transition within the principle of equality?

PRAMILA PATTEN, an expert from Mauritius, expressed appreciation for the efforts that the Government was making under difficult circumstances.  The main challenge now was to create favourable conditions and the right public mind-frame for the development of policies and implementation of legal measures.  She wondered about the country's institutional machinery and the allocation of financial resources for the advancement of women, as well as advocacy efforts by the Ministry on the Status of Women and Family.  Noting the absence of special temporary measures in the country's programme so far, she said they would be highly appropriate in such areas as education and the labour market.  She also urged the Government to seek assistance from multilateral institutions and bilateral donors for the development of relevant statistical databases.

VICTORIA POPESCU, an expert from Romania, said that the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been one of the first countries to ratify the Convention in 1980, and wondered if it also intended to ratify the Optional Protocol to that instrument.  The Government's efforts, including the drafting of the national programme, had been based on the outcome of the Beijing Conference and the Convention.  However, the provisions of the Convention still needed to be widely disseminated, particularly in view of the high rate of illiteracy in the country.  She also suggested that the national programme, which had been elaborated at the height of the conflict there, should be reviewed, taking into account the needs of the post-conflict situation.  For example, measures were needed for the rehabilitation of female victims of war.

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, an expert from Cuba, stressed the need to ensure continuity and sustainability of the Government's efforts.  The country had tried to revitalize such institutions as the National Council for Women, and she wanted to know about respective roles of the Council and the Ministry on the Status of Women and Family.  She also wanted to know about the efforts and institutions at the local level.

Delegation Response

Responding to those questions, a member of the delegation emphasized that the country now had a new Constitution, which was being enforced.  However, there had been no vacuum before, as a transitional Constitution had been in place.  Despite the fact that discrimination was prohibited by law, it was important to disseminate relevant legal texts and make them known to the people.  Outreach efforts were under way in that respect, and work with the judiciary had already begun.  The efforts included training of magistrates and lawyers, and familiarizing them with international conventions.  The Government intended to extend that work at all levels.

Indeed, the country's legislation did not have a specific definition of discrimination; however, it was a true innovation that the country's laws now specifically addressed discrimination against women.  With regard to remedies available to women, she said that "regular remedies" existed in the country.  There were lawyers who could provide assistance to women who had problems with the justice system.  Illiterate women were in particular need of such help.  Legal clinics had been organized in the country, which provided information regarding women's rights and assistance to those in need.  As far as violence against women was concerned, the legal provisions recognized that offence, and the structures for the protection of women were in place.  Victims could seek advice from legal clinics and receive assistance in court.

Regarding women's role in the pacification and reunification of the country, she said that women had been actively involved in the peace negotiations.  They had participated in the negotiations with the belligerents and remained involved after the cessation of hostilities.  They supported the establishment of democratic institutions and took part in those structures.  The Government sought women's opinions and made efforts to involve them at all stages.  In the Parliament, there was a women's commission that worked with the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).

Responding to a question on the reform timetable, she said that so far, there had been little effort to harmonize the laws and align them with the Convention.  Now the political situation had been normalized, and the elections had taken place.  With their results expected in the next two weeks, it would be possible to focus more attention on the legal reform soon.  However, a commission on the harmonization of legal texts was already in place, and she hoped that its work could be speeded up in the near future.

The country was coming out of a very complex situation, and as a result, the implementation of the Convention had been "timid" so far.  She hoped that now the needs of the women would be fully taken into account and that in the next several years, the results of the efforts to promote gender equality would become more obvious.

As for the reporting guidelines, she said that in its next report, the country would try to follow them more closely. She was sure that the new Parliament would adopt measures for the implementation of various provisions of the Constitution, including measures to accelerate the implementation of the Convention.  Particular attention should be paid to the harmonization of legal texts.

The delegate said particular efforts were being taken at the ministries to mainstream gender issues.  Training was conducted to promote consideration of problems facing women and to make women more visible in Ministry programmes.  As an example, the Ministry of Public Health had taken up the issue of problems related to pregnancy and maternity, and pregnancies, working both with women's groups and with non-governmental organizations to address the problems and with other ministries in an integrated fashion.

Emphasizing the Ministry needed more disaggregated data and gender disaggregated statistics to do its work, she said her country's report had not respected the Committee's reporting methodology and that attention would be turned to improving the next report.  But, the Programme of Action on implementing the Convention had been updated, and the new Programme would be published shortly, with measures to combat violence against women centred on judicial, health and economic parameters.  The plan was to implement the programme at the completion of the election process.

In response to the request to clarify the roles of the National Council for Women and the Ministry, she said the former was charged with protecting women's rights while the Ministry set up the structures to help women.  The Council was composed of civil society and women's group members, as well as members of various ministries.  Those Ministry members came together within the Council to make decisions and give guidelines on actions to be taken within their own ministries.  The Council was represented in the provinces with provincial governors presiding.

Continuing on the subject of coordination between ministries for the purpose of advancing women's rights, she said the ministries were organized under the various commissions, such as the Commission on Finance and, the one for defense and security.  The Ministry for Women reached out to the provincial level.  Focal points were set up to implement parity among the various structures.  The Ministry drew up plans of action and conducted evaluations at the end of the period.  While at present, implementation was less than 50 per cent, the rate was expected to continue improving from year to year.

Structural Stereotyping, Violence against Women

As the Committee turned to the issue of sexual stereotypes and violence against women, NAELA GABR, an expert from Egypt, wondered what was being done to change the negative mindsets and support a more positive approach towards women.  The high level of participation of women in the delegation testified to a new attitude, and she hoped that it would be spread to other areas, as well.

Noting the need to disseminate information on women's issues, Ms. SHIN suggested that a public forum be held in the country to publicize the concluding comments of the Committee and educate women on the provisions of the Convention.  It was also important to give justice to the victims of war and make the truth known about their experiences.  That would give a strong signal to the society to change its attitudes.

Mr. FLINTERMAN referred to the paragraph of the report, according to which "violence against women is a recurrent question, and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo it has been exacerbated by armed conflicts.  The magnitude of familiar forms, such as rape, has become astonishing.  At the same time, new forms are emerging, such as the amputation of limbs, mutilation of genital organs and live burial of women".  Having visited the eastern part of the country and spoken to a number of victims, he saluted the non-governmental organizations which had been providing assistance to women.  Important activities were under way to address the problem, but, he wanted to know what the Government was doing to stop impunity and stop those who had perpetrated those crimes.

In response, a country representative said that while there were no formal plans in place to combat negative sexual stereotypes, efforts were under way to face that challenge.  For example, a campaign had been launched to promote girls' education and improve their school attendance.  At the regional level, countries were exchanging views and experiences to improve the situation.  The Government was trying to identify the negative customs, for not all customs were bad.  It was necessary to make people understand that it was possible for society to eradicate the negative practices and introduce a more favourable approach to women.  The country had applied for financing of that project, but, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization had not responded to it.  Once the Government had received resources for that purpose, it would proceed with the project.

On the issue of impunity, another member of the delegation said that, reform had been initiated, with support of the European Union and the World Bank, to strengthen the capacity of the medical system to administer justice at all levels.  Training was being provided to magistrates and judges, to make them familiar with international texts.  On several occasions, the Ministry on the Status of Women had asked the courts to accelerate trials of cases of violence against women.  During the Human Rights Day, the issue of impunity had also been addressed.

Responding to a request for further information on actions being taken to help victims of violence, the delegate said the Ministry had taken a number of steps to publicize the truth about the violence.  Also, the Family Code was being reviewed, but, while certain legal articles had been deleted and others revised, the cultural burden made it impossible for women in some cases to enjoy their rights.  A focus for the Ministry was on making women aware that they could enjoy their rights.

Women in Politics and Public Life

As the Committee turned to the role of women in the country's public and political life, several experts stressed the importance of their presence in decision-making positions, with MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, an expert from Algeria, stressing that women needed to demand their rights in that regard.  Women in politics, in decision-making positions in Government could contribute to the achievement of gender equality, addressing gender-specific concerns, values and experiences.

Members of the Committee also noted that while there were no legal obstacles to prevent women from pursuing a career in politics, the report stated that "the Government's desire to further women's advancement has not been translated into reality: its expression has been confined to elegant laws and discussions of policies and strategies in the media".

Questions were posed about the level of women's representation in elected positions, the results of recent elections, and the Government's efforts to remove the obstacles to women's advancement in public office.  An expert also wanted to know about the role of women in diplomatic service.

PRAMILA PATTEN, an expert from Mauritius, noted that the report reflected the disparity between de jure and de facto situations of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  To a certain extent, the document demonstrated the lack of the Government's political will, which was reflected in the low number of women in public life.  At the same time, a number of objective barriers to the advancement of women also existed.  She was concerned that such major impediments, as traditional working methods of political parties and Government structures, were not being addressed.  Traditional working methods and procedures within the parties, the high cost of seeking public office, as well as family and child responsibilities led to unequal division of responsibilities between men and women.

In that connection, a member of the delegation said that the political climate was now quite favourable to gender equality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The political will existed, but, the cultural traditions were hard to change.  Currently, most political leaders were men.  Whenever it came to the mindset, change took a long time.  Even at a very high level, it took time for men to get accustomed to working with women in decision-making positions.  She hoped it was just a question of time and that change would come gradually.

Regarding women in diplomacy, another country representative said that, while the number of women in diplomatic service remained significantly lower than that of men, today, 8 out of 64 ambassadors and heads of diplomatic missions were women.  The country had a female Ambassador in Washington, DC, for example.  A great many women were needed in Foreign Service.  Efforts would continue to ensure increased women's presence in government and elected positions.

Many women attended international forums on women, but, many were not sufficiently informed to participate in other international events, a member of the delegation said.  That issue required attention in the future.  "When we educate women in our culture, we have always said that women cannot speak in public, that women cannot raise their voice when men are present, so, it is difficult," she said.  The very fact that women in parliament dared to take the floor and speak, and that there were women in diplomatic service was a small step forward.  The Government was looking into the matter.

The very fact that equality and parity were enshrined in the Constitution was a step forward, another member of the delegation added.  Now, women had that weapon and could insist on being listened to.  Regarding the work of political parties, she said that the law demanded that parties did not discriminate.  However, the problem amounted to the need for Congolese women to undergo a period of apprenticeship before one could see that political parties did exist where women were active.  Some 1 390 women had been represented as candidates during recent elections, out of almost 9 000 candidates.  Out of 33 presidency candidates, 4 were women.  "We are learning.  Give us time to learn more before we can bring you results", she said.

Education, Health and Employment

Turning to educational challenges, experts asked for more information on specific modalities to ensure universal primary education, to reach goals on fighting illiteracy and to improve education overall.  Also, what was being done to combat infant mortality and HIV/AIDS among women?  What was being done to improve the rate of secondary education among girls?  What kind of cooperation was there between Kinshasa and the provinces?

On the poor representation of women in the workforce, an expert asked for more information on provisions requiring a woman to get her husband's permission to take on paying work.  The expert from Cuba asked for more data on health and employment issues.  SHANTI DAIRAM, the expert from Malaysia, asked whether the Democratic Republic of the Congo had developed programmes for the health of rural women.  Cooperative efforts with UNICEF and the Government of Japan had been mentioned in relation to water development.  What was the status of those projects?  What was the status of the legislation making it illegal for young people to receive birth control services?  What were the statistics on women dying from lack of obstetric care?

On education, the delegation said textbooks had been vetted to remove references promoting discrimination.  Teachers were being trained to avoid prejudicial behaviour and to promote the equality of boys and girls.  As to health and reproductive health, a vast programme had been established with the support of the United Nations Population Fund.  It monitored pregnancies and tracked the incidence of HIV/AIDS.  Reproductive health centres had been established for youth.

Regarding employment, members of the delegation said that the country's legislation gave men and women the same advantages and social benefits.  The Career Statute related to the public sector, and the Labour Statute regulated the informal sector.  All the jobs were open to both men and women.  The Labour Code had eliminated the requirement for work authorization by the husband, and provided for equal pay for equal work.  The only problem was the failure to recognize maternity.  For instance, female civil servants were not allowed to take their annual leave when they had already taken maternity leave in the same year.

Health services coverage was not very high in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country representative said, amounting to about 40 per cent, but, efforts were under way to improve the situation.  Several programmes had been set up, including programmes to combat malaria and HIV/AIDS, which contained not only treatment, but also, prevention aspects.  A reproductive health programme had been launched, as well.  Other initiatives related to violence against women and reconstruction of the country's infrastructure.  Most health programmes were being implemented with assistance from both bilateral and multilateral partners.  Reviews of those programmes were carried out every year, and regular in-depth evaluations took place, as well.

She attributed high rates of mortality to the destruction of the health infrastructure during the war.  Hotbeds of tension still existed in some parts of the country, which women seeking medical attention needed to avoid.  The Government was resolutely determined to improve the situation in the health sector and address the needs of rural women.

To a question regarding the law banning the use of contraceptives, she said that it needed to be amended and harmonized with other provisions of the law.  Also, contraceptives were actually being distributed under the HIV/AIDS programme.

Marriage and Family Relations

Turning to the articles relating to women's family situation, Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, an expert from Algeria, noted that according to the report, the country's Family Code set the age of marriage for women at 15 years and for men at 18.  However, according to the country's responses to the questions posed by the pre-session working group, the work on harmonization of the Family Code had put an end to discrimination in respect of the age of marriage, and proposals had been adopted to comply with the Convention on the Rights of the Child by prohibiting marriage by persons aged under 18 years of age and emancipation by marriage.  Had the Family Code actually been amended?  She wanted to know what provisions had actually been drafted and enacted.

Responding to that question, a country representative said that the Family Code was being revised.  It had not yet been adopted by the new Parliament.  The adoption of that text would harmonize the Family Code with the country's other laws.  The age of marriage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been raised to 18 for everybody.  In particular, the Code on the Protection of Children banned marriage by minors and provided penalties for those who broke the law.

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