United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women - Concluding Observations
20 November 2015
ADVANCE UNEDITED VERSION
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination
Concluding observations on the combined seventh and eighth periodic reports of Liberia[*]
1. The Committee considered the combined seventh and eighth periodic reports of Liberia (CEDAW/C/LBR/7-8) at its 1339th and 1340th meetings, on 29 October 2015 (see CEDAW/C/SR.1339 and 1340). The Committee’s list of issues and questions is contained in CEDAW/C/LBR/Q/7-8 and the responses of Liberia are contained in CEDAW/C/LBR/Q/7-8/Add.1.
2. The Committee appreciates that the State party submitted its combined seventh and eighth periodic reports. It also appreciates the State party’s written replies to the list of issues and questions raised by the pre-sessional working group of the Committee. It welcomes the oral presentation of the delegation and the further clarification provided in response to the questions posed orally by the Committee during the dialogue.
3. The Committee commends the State party’s delegation, which was headed by H.E. Ms. Julia Duncan-Cassell, Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection. The delegation also included the Deputy Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection and representatives of the Permanent Mission of Liberia to the United Nations at Geneva.
B. Positive Aspects
4. The Committee welcomes the progress achieved since the consideration of the combined initial to sixth periodic reports of Liberia (CEDAW/C/LBR/6) in 2009, in particular the adoption of the following legislative measures:
(a) The Education Reform Act of 2011, which seeks to advance girls’ education at all levels;
(b) The Children’s Law of 2011, which partly addresses female genital mutilation; and
(c) The Law Reform Commission Act of 2011, which provides for the revision of laws including those with a bearing on women’s rights.
5. The Committee welcomes the State party’s efforts in improving its institutional and policy framework aimed at accelerating the elimination of discrimination against women and promoting gender equality, such as the adoption of the following:
(a) The National Action Plan on Human Trafficking launched in 2014;
(b) The National Health and Social Welfare Plan, 2011-2021 to respond to health care at all levels;
(c) The establishment of Criminal Court “E” in Montserrado county, mandated to hear cases of rape and other forms of sexual violence;
(d) The establishment of a Sexual and Gender-based Violence Crimes Unit within the prosecution system; and
(e) The establishment of a Women and Children Protection Unit in the Police service, in 2009.
6. The Committee welcomes the State party’s accession to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in 2012.
C. Factors and difficulties preventing the effective implementation of the Convention
7. The Committee notes that the State party’s commendable efforts in the short period since the end of the armed conflict have largely been reversed by the devastating impact of the Ebola pandemic and that the numerous economic and health problems in the post-Ebola recovery period pose serious challenges to the implementation of the Convention. The Committee notes the various recovery plans in place including the Liberia Economic Stabilisation and Recovery Plan, which seek to stimulate economic growth. The Committee considers that these efforts require the full implementation of the Convention in order to ensure respect for and enjoyment of women’s rights. Therefore, the Committee urges the State party to implement the recommendations contained in the present concluding observations as a matter of high priority, including by seeking international assistance and cooperation, if appropriate, for their implementation. In this regard, the Committee urges the State party to consider adopting a 4 year national action plan on the implementation of the present recommendations, which will provide the State party with a roadmap for better implementation and monitoring. Furthermore, in implementing the present concluding observations, the Committee also calls upon the State party to include women in the development and implementation of disaster risk reduction strategies and programmes.
D. Principal areas of concern and recommendations
8. The Committee stresses the crucial role of the legislative power in ensuring the full implementation of the Convention (see the statement by the Committee on its relationship with Parliamentarians, adopted at the forty-fifth session, in 2010). It invites Parliament, in line with its mandate, to take the necessary steps regarding the implementation of the present concluding observations between now and the next reporting period under the Convention.
9. The Committee recalls the numerous problems that the State party has faced following the armed conflict and recently due to the Ebola outbreak, and recognizes and fully supports the efforts undertaken by the State party towards post-conflict reconstruction and to fight the outbreak and reduce its impact on the lives and health of the population, particularly women caregivers, as well as on the economy, State finances, food security, health and employment sectors, and the ability of the State party to respect, protect and promote women’s rights. The Committee welcomes the information regarding the State party’s efforts to re-focus its policies and programmes to address the impact of Ebola. However, it is concerned at the lack of information on comprehensive gender sensitive programming into recovery and economic stimulus plans considering the disproportionately adverse impact that Ebola had on women’s and girls’ health, education and employment.
10. The Committee supports the efforts of the State party and encourages it to:
(a) Mainstream gender perspectives in all programmes and activities earmarked as priority areas in the Ebola recovery and economic stimulus plans;
(b) Undertake specific measures, including educational and awareness raising programmes, aimed at addressing the stigmatisation of women and girls who survived Ebola and those who provided care to patients; and
(c) Seek international assistance and cooperation to overcome the disruption of services and programmes in many areas following the Ebola outbreak, in particular by strengthening the health, education and employment sectors as well as improving food security and social protection programmes.
Definition of discrimination and legislative framework
11. The Committee notes that articles 8 and 11 of the Constitution of the State party provide for fundamental rights and freedoms and prohibit discrimination on specific grounds including sex and ethnic background. However, the Committee is concerned that the prohibition of discrimination in the Constitution does not encompass other prohibited grounds of discrimination such as marital status and that the definition is not fully in line with article 1 of the Convention. It notes the efforts by the State party to improve women’s rights by adopting appropriate legislation. However, the Committee notes with concern that a number of draft laws with an important bearing on women’s rights such as the Reproductive Health bill, the Domestic Violence bill, and the Fairness bill, are still pending.
12. The Committee reiterates its previous concluding observations (CEDAW/C/LBR/CO/6, para. 13) and calls upon the State party to adopt a comprehensive legal definition of discrimination against women in line with article 1 of the Convention, covering all prohibited grounds of discrimination, direct and indirect discrimination in the public and private spheres, as well as intersecting forms of discrimination based on sex and other grounds. It further urges the State party to expedite the adoption of pending laws such as the Reproductive Health bill, the Domestic Violence bill, the Fairness bill, and ensure that they fully comply with the Convention.
Legal status of the Convention and harmonisation of laws
13. The Committee takes note of the various efforts undertaken by the State party to incorporate most of the provisions of the Convention in its domestic legal order and to revise existing legislation, including in the context of the ongoing constitutional review process. The Committee also notes that in 2011, the State party adopted an Act establishing a Law Reform Commission with a mandate to review laws. The Committee notes the pluralistic legal system in the State party where customary and statutory law are applicable side by side and is concerned that certain elements of customary law are in conflict with statutory law and do not comply with the Convention. The Committee further notes that the State party has only signed but not yet ratified the Optional Protocol.
14. The Committee calls upon the State party to:
(a) Expedite the process of harmonising customary and statutory law, in line with the provisions of the Convention and General Recommendation No. 29 (2013) on Economic consequences of marriage, family relations and their dissolution (paras 12-15), with a view to eliminating existing conflicts, which have a negative impact on the full enjoyment of rights by women and girls, and ensure that women are part of this process, through Traditional Women's Councils or in any other appropriate way;
(b) Provide all safeguards, including legislative measures, against all violations of women’s human rights by traditional courts in line with General Recommendation No. 33 (2015) on women’s access to justice;
(c) Ensure that the ongoing constitutional review process is used to address issues of concern such as the applicability of parallel quasi-judicial mechanisms established under customary law such as traditional courts in order to facilitate access to justice by women and girls; and
(d) Accelerate the process of incorporating all provisions of the Convention into its domestic legal order and to consider ratifying the Optional Protocol.
Access to justice and legal complaint mechanisms
15. The Committee notes the State party’s efforts to provide legal aid services to women and girls through the support of the Association of Female Lawyers and the National Bar Association and its plan to decentralise the court system to facilitate its accessibility. The Committee is, however, concerned that there is no legal aid scheme in the State party and that women’s access to justice is often impeded by the geographic inaccessibility of courts as well as alleged corruption within the judiciary. The Committee is further concerned about the absence of effective mechanisms to guarantee accountability and ensure women rights protection and the fact that the Independent National Human Rights Commission of Liberia lacks adequate human and financial resources and reportedly does not comply with the principles relating to the status of national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights (Paris Principles, GA resolution 48/134)).
16. Recalling its General Recommendation No. 33 (2015) on women’s access to justice, the Committee urges the State party to:
(a) Establish a comprehensive legal aid scheme by drafting an appropriate Legal Aid bill to facilitate women’s access to justice;
(b) Ensure that the Legal Aid bill provides legal assistance to women and girls both in criminal and civil matters;
(c) Ensure that women have effective access to justice throughout the 15 counties of the State party, especially women belonging to disadvantaged and marginalized groups, such as women with disabilities;
(d) Investigate allegations of corruption within the judiciary and prosecute and punish corrupt judicial officials who obstruct justice in order to restore public trust in the judicial system;
(e) Consider the establishment of an independent national inquiry commission to receive and investigate complaints against judges and magistrates; and
(f) Provide adequate human and financial resources to the Independent National Human Rights Commission of Liberia and ensure that it fully complies with the principles relating to the status of national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights (Paris Principles GA resolution 48/134), and that its mandate includes issues related to gender equality and the protection of women’s rights.
National machinery for the advancement of women
17. The Committee notes that the Ministry of Gender, which acts as the national machinery for the advancement of women, now has an expanded mandate that includes children and social protection. While noting that the financial resources of the State party in the post-Ebola period are overstretched, the Committee is concerned that the expanded mandate of the Ministry of Gender and the lack of adequate human and financial resources adversely affect the promotion and protection of women’s rights in the State party. While welcoming the establishment of Gender Focal Points in line Ministries and efforts to ensure systematic gender-mainstreaming and gender budgeting, the Committee notes that the impact assessment of the implementation of the National Gender Policy 2009 was postponed due to the Ebola outbreak.
18. The Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Provide adequate human and financial resources to the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection to be able to effectively undertake its activities as the national machinery for the advancement of women, including by seeking international assistance and cooperation, if appropriate;
(b) Provide continuous support to the Gender Focal Points in line Ministries to ensure the effectiveness of their gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting activities;
(c) Continue to provide training to technical staff in charge of budgeting at all levels on gender-responsive budgeting; and
(d) Assess the National Gender Policy 2009, in order to understand the impact and effectiveness of policies and programmes aimed at mainstreaming gender equality and enhancing women’s enjoyment of their human rights. In this regard, the Committee encourages the State party to seek technical assistance from relevant United Nations agencies and other partners.
Temporary special measures
19. The Committee notes the State party’s efforts to ensure de facto equality of women and men by, inter alia, amending the Elections Law, which now provides that candidates’ lists of political parties should have a minimum of 30% representation of each gender. The Committee is, however, concerned that the Law does not provide for sanctions in order to be able to enforce the 30% quota on political parties. The Committee is further concerned at the inadequate use of temporary special measures in other areas covered by the Convention, such as education and employment, in order to accelerate the achievement of substantive equality of women and men in all areas where women are underrepresented or disadvantaged.
20. The Committee calls upon the State party to adopt and fully enforce legislative provisions on temporary special measures to increase women’s participation in political and public life, education and employment, in line with article 4 (1) of the Convention and the Committee’s General Recommendation No. 25 (2004) on temporary special measures, as a necessary strategy to accelerate the achievement of substantive equality of women and men in all areas of the Convention where women are underrepresented or disadvantaged.
Stereotypes and harmful practices
21. The Committee notes the State party’s efforts to address stereotypes and harmful practices by, inter alia, issuing circulars banning certain practices that perpetuate discriminatory gender stereotypes. The Committee is, however, concerned at the persistence of adverse cultural practices and traditions as well as patriarchal attitudes and deep-rooted stereotypes regarding the roles and responsibilities of women and men in society and in the family, which are perpetuated by secret tribal societies such as the Sande and Poro. The Committee notes that such stereotypes contribute to the increase in child and/or forced marriage, abduction of girls and polygamy, and hence to the disadvantaged and unequal status of women in society. The Committee is particularly concerned that the secret tribal societies in the State party continue to perpetrate harmful practices through their initiation rites including female genital mutilation (FGM), and that practices such as trial by ordeal for women and girls accused of witchcraft as well as ritual murders are rife.
22. Recalling Joint General Recommendation No. 31 of the Committee/General Comment No. 18 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (2014) on harmful practices, the Committee urges the State party to:
(a) Intensify media and other awareness-raising efforts to sensitize the public about existing discriminatory gender stereotypes that persist at all levels of society, with a view to eliminating them;
(b) Expand public education programmes on the negative impact of such stereotypes on women’s enjoyment of their rights, in particular in rural areas and targeting traditional leaders who are the custodians of customary values in the State party;
(c) Take effective legal measures to prohibit and eliminate child and/or forced marriages as well as to discourage and prohibit polygamy; and
(d) Regularly monitor and review the measures taken to eliminate discriminatory gender stereotypes and harmful practices, including trial by ordeal of women and girls accused of witchcraft, and engage traditional leaders and the Sande and Poro secret societies so that they can abandon all harmful practices including FGM.
Female genital mutilation
23. The Committee recalls its previous concluding observations (CEDAW/C/LBR/6, para. 20) and reiterates its concern that notwithstanding the State party’s efforts to combat female genital mutilation (FGM) such as the adoption of the Rape Law and the Children’s Law, this harmful practice continues to be practiced on a large scale by traditional and community leaders, and zoes, particularly among tribal societies such as the Sande and Poro. The Committee notes with concern that the Domestic Violence bill introduces the element of consent for a harmful practice that constitutes a grave violation of the bodily integrity and health of women. The Committee is also concerned at reports of abduction and forcible subjection to FGM of individuals who are not members of the Sande or Poro societies, particularly those who are residents of non-FGM practicing counties in the State party.
24. The Committee reiterates its previous concluding observations (CEDAW/C/LBR/6, para. 20) and urges the State party to:
(a) Criminalise FGM in the Children’s Law and introduce sanctions compatible with the crime committed to ensure that the practice is prohibited in all circumstances and will be eradicated;
(b) Remove the element of consent in the Domestic Violence bill and ensure that the Domestic Violence bill is used to prosecute and adequately punish perpetrators of FGM;
(c) Intensify efforts to raise awareness among religious groups and leaders and the general public about the fact that all forms of female genital mutilation, including female circumcision, are in violation of the human rights of women and about the criminal nature and harmful effects of this practice; and
(d) Consider seeking international assistance and cooperation in order to develop specific entrepreneurial programmes targeting zoes and traditional practitioners of female genital mutilation to find alternative livelihoods.
Sexual and gender-based violence
25. The Committee commends the State party for its efforts to combat violence against women by, inter alia, drafting a Domestic Violence Bill, establishing a Sexual and Gender-Based Unit and Criminal Court “E”, which specialises in the prosecution of sexual and gender based violence cases. The Committee notes the State party’s efforts to decentralise Criminal Court “E” and to replicate it in different counties of the State party. The Committee further notes the State party’s efforts to establish “One-Stop Centres” for victims of sexual and gender based violence in 7 of the State party’s 15 counties. However, it remains concerned at:
(a) The high levels of sexual and gender-based violence especially domestic violence, and increased ritual murders especially during pre-election periods;
(b) The low rates of convictions for acts of sexual and gender-based violence and that rape remains one of the most frequently reported crimes; and
(c) The inadequate number of shelters and the inaccessibility of existing shelters by most women and girls in most counties.
26. Recalling its General Recommendation No. 19 (1992) on violence against women, the Committee urges the State party to:
(a) Intensify its efforts to encourage reporting of violence against women and investigate and prosecute these cases of violence against women by ensuring the accessibility of Criminal Court “E” in all counties of the State in order to curb the prevailing culture of impunity, in particular for rape and other forms of sexual violence;
(b) Develop a comprehensive prevention strategy on sexual and gender-based violence and establish a victim and witness protection programme for victims and witnesses of acts of sexual and gender-based violence;
(c) Allocate sufficient resources to address sexual and gender-based violence into health sector strategic plans and train healthcare providers in the provision of comprehensive clinical care for victims of sexual violence;
(d) Ensure the speedy adoption of the draft Domestic Violence bill and ensure that it comprehensively covers all forms of violence against women, particularly marital rape and sexual violence;
(e) Develop a system for regular collection of statistical data on cases of all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, abductions, ritual killings, which should be disaggregated by age, type of offence and the relationship of the victim with the perpetrator;
(f) Establish shelters in all counties of the State party in order to ensure accessibility for women and girls who are victims of violence; and
(g) Renew the National Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Action Plan, which expires at the end of 2015 and establish a national violence coordination mechanism with a mandate to address all forms of violence against women and girls, and to coordinate national efforts on the prevention and elimination of violence against women.
Trafficking and exploitation of prostitution
27. The Committee welcomes the launch of a National Action Plan to combat trafficking in 2014 and the establishment of a National Anti-Trafficking Taskforce. The Committee further notes that the State party remains a source and destination country for trafficking in human beings and that the State party is currently investigating a case involving 14 Liberian girls who were trafficked to Lebanon. The Committee is, however, concerned at the lack of information on the number of cases that have been prosecuted and where perpetrators were convicted, and that the trust-fund on trafficking and shelters for victims is yet to be established by the State party. It is also concerned at the lack of data on the extent of trafficking in women and girls in the post-Ebola period considering women’s and girls’ increased vulnerability due to poverty.
28. The Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Intensify efforts to address the root causes of trafficking in women and girls and to ensure the rehabilitation and social integration of victims, including by providing them with access to shelters, legal, medical and psychosocial assistance, and alternative income-generating opportunities;
(b) Seek international assistance and cooperation, if appropriate, in order to undertake a comprehensive study with a view to collecting data on the extent and forms of trafficking in women and girls, especially in the post-Ebola period, which should be disaggregated by age, region or country of origin;
(c) Intensify awareness-raising efforts aimed at promoting reporting of trafficking crimes and early detection and referral of women and girls who are victims of trafficking;
(d) Intensify efforts aimed at bilateral, regional and international cooperation to prevent trafficking, including by exchanging information and harmonizing legal procedures to prosecute traffickers, particularly with countries in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS); and
(e) Provide data in its next periodic report on existing programmes aimed at addressing exploitation of prostitution, including the demand side, and on exit programmes for women who wish to leave prostitution.
Participation in political and public life
29. The Committee notes the progress made in improving the representation of women in leadership positions in the State party such as the passing of the amendment to section 4(5) of the Elections Law to provide for the inclusion of gender equity in the nomination of candidates and the election and re-election for a second term of a female President. However, it remains concerned that women are still under-represented at decision-making levels, including in Parliament, in senior leadership positions in the civil service, and at the Ministerial level.
30. The Committee recommends that the State party introduce measures, including temporary special measures, in line with article 4, paragraph 1, of the Convention and the Committee’s General Recommendation No. 25 (2004) on temporary special measures and General Recommendation No. 23 (1997) on women in political and public life, such as a gender parity system for appointments and accelerated recruitment of women in senior public positions, in order to accelerate women’s full and equal participation in elected and appointed bodies, including in parliament, senior leadership positions in the civil service and at Ministerial level. Furthermore, the State party should consider introducing provisions on temporary special measures to achieve substantive equality of women and men in political and public life in the Constitution during the ongoing constitutional review process.
Women peace and security
31. The Committee notes that the national action plan on the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) was recently evaluated and that the State party is in the process of reviewing recommendations in order to adopt a new national action plan. The Committee notes that despite the national action plan, women’s participation in the security sector remains limited.
32. The Committee urges the State party to give due consideration to the Committee’s General Recommendation No. 30 (2013) on women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations by ensuring that the National Action Plan on the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) is regularly reviewed so as to address all areas of concern in order to ensure durable peace. The Committee further recommends that the State party fully involve women at all stages of the post-conflict reconstruction process, including in decision-making, in line with Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), and take into consideration the full spectrum of the Council’s women and peace and security agenda as reflected in Council resolutions 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009), 2122 (2013) and 2202 (2010) as well as in the Committee’s General Recommendation No. 30.
33. The Committee notes the State party’s efforts to address challenges related to its nationality legislation. However, it is concerned that the Aliens and Nationality Law of 1973, which contradicts article 28 of the Constitution, remains in force and continues to be applied, thereby preventing women from transmitting Liberian nationality to their children if they are born outside the country. The Committee notes that this is discriminatory as it is not applicable to Liberian men whose children are born outside the State party and entails the risk of statelessness for children of Liberian mothers.
34. The Committee recommends that the State party repeal discriminatory provisions from its Aliens and Nationality Act of 1973, in order to bring it in line with the Constitution and the Convention, to ensure that Liberian women who give birth to children abroad can transmit their nationality to children on an equal basis as Liberian men whose children are born abroad, in accordance with article 9 of the Convention. Furthermore, the Committee recommends that the State party ensure that children born to Liberian women married to non-Liberian men are not rendered stateless and have equal access to education, healthcare and other basic services as other children.
35. The Committee welcomes the adoption of the Education Reform Act in 2011 and the various policies on girls’ education such as the Sexual Harassment Policy as well as the revision of the Policy on Girls’ Education in 2013. The Committee also commends the State party for the Accelerated Learning Program and the provision of free tertiary education for students specialising in education, which partly seeks to encourage women and girls to pursue a career in education. The Committee is, however, concerned at the low enrolment and retention rates of girls in school and gender disparities in accessing scholarships. The Committee is further concerned about the:
(a) Increasing number of girls who drop out of school mainly due to teenage pregnancies and recruitment into Sande and Poro secret societies;
(b) Widespread abuse of and sexual violence against girls at school by teachers, and when travelling to and from school;
(c) Lack of adequate programmes focusing on the re-entry of girls into the education system after giving birth;
(d) Lack of clarity on specific programmes aimed at addressing the impact of the Ebola outbreak on girls’ education, particularly traditional attitudes and negative stereotypes about girls’ education, which have been exacerbated by Ebola; and
(e) Limited provision of age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health and rights education in schools.
36. The Committee reiterates its previous concluding observations (CEDAW/C/LBR/CO/6, para. 33) and recommends that the State party:
(a) Introduce programmes that encourage girls’ school enrolment and retention by, inter alia, introducing monitoring mechanisms to address the recruitment of girls into the Poro and Sande societies during the school calendar and by removing indirect costs associated with primary education as well as to protect disadvantaged girls, including girls with disabilities;
(b) Adopt measures to prevent and eliminate abuse of and sexual violence against girls in school, and ensure that perpetrators are adequately punished;
(c) Intensify existing efforts to encourage girls and young women to choose non-traditional fields of study and professions, such as informatics and technology, including through the adoption of temporary special measures, and implement programmes aimed at counselling boys and girls on the full range of educational choices, to encourage them to choose non-traditional fields of study;
(d) Reduce school dropouts among girls by promoting re-entry into school by girls after giving birth;
(e) Take steps to overcome traditional attitudes and stereotypes that constitute obstacles to girls’ and women’s education, which have been exacerbated by the Ebola outbreak and increased the pressure on girls to fall back into domestic roles; and
(f) Integrate age-appropriate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights into school curricula, including comprehensive sex education for adolescent girls and boys covering responsible sexual behaviours, focused on preventing early pregnancies.
37. The Committee welcomes the recent adoption of the Decent Work Act and efforts to improve the participation of women in the labour market by promoting the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. The Committee notes that the employment sector was heavily affected by the Ebola outbreak and that many women both in the formal and informal sectors of employment have lost economic opportunities including earnings as a result of the pandemic. The Committee notes that the State party’s efforts on Ebola recovery also focus on revamping the employment sector where women continue to experience occupational segregation and are concentrated in low-paid jobs in the informal economy.
38. The Committee calls on the State party to:
(a) Ensure that Ebola recovery plans specifically address the persisting gender inequalities in the employment sector such as occupational segregation and gender wage gaps in the informal sector where women are concentrated;
(b) Intensify efforts to promote the entry of women into the formal economy through, inter alia, the provision of vocational and technical training; and
(c) Conduct regular labour inspections and enforce compliance with labour laws by private employers, particularly with regard to domestic work.
39. The Committee commends the State party’s efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak and the plans in place to restore the health system, which currently faces serious financial and human resources problems. The Committee notes that the State party is in the process of recruiting and deploying 4,000 health workers, including highly trained midwives across the country, especially in rural areas. The Committee notes that the Ebola outbreak had a disparate impact on women’s lives and health due to the fact that their roles as caregivers put them at greater risk of infection. The Committee notes with concern that:
(a) The impact of the Ebola pandemic further exacerbated the State party efforts to combat the high maternal and infant mortality in the State party due to severe disruptions in midwifery and other services;
(b) No information is available on the specific programmes to provide post-Ebola care to women and girls who survived the pandemic;
(c) There are high rates of teenage pregnancies and lack of data on access to sexual and reproductive health care services in the post-Ebola period;
(d) Unsafe abortions are prevalent irrespective of efforts by the State party to provide access to abortion services in specific cases such as where there is a substantial risk that continuation of the pregnancy would gravely impair the physical or mental health of the mother, or that the child would be born with severe foetal impairment, or that the pregnancy resulted from rape, incest, or other felonious intercourse; and
(e) The prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS remains a challenge in the State party.
40. In line with its general recommendation No. 24 (1999) on women and health, the Committee calls upon the State party to:
(a) Ensure that women fully participate in the implementation of Ebola recovery plans aimed at restoring and reinforcing the health system of the State party taking into account women’s roles in the care of Ebola patients during the outbreak;
(b) Increase access for women and girls to basic health-care services, including post-Ebola healthcare for women and girls who survived the pandemic, in particular in rural areas, and address the barriers to women’s access to health-care services, including socio-cultural barriers;
(c) Strengthen the training of midwives and nurses to improve the access of women and girls to adequate health care;
(d) Strengthen the programme for the reduction of maternal, new-born and child mortality and ensure the full implementation of the programme for free obstetric care, with wider geographical coverage, by providing adequate financial and human resources;
(e) Promote comprehensive, rights based and age-appropriate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, in particular by undertaking large-scale campaigns to raise awareness about available contraceptive methods, and to increase access to comprehensive, safe and affordable modern contraceptives and access to information on family planning for women and men of all ages throughout the State party;
(f) Expand programmes and services relating to the provision of abortion and post-abortion care and services to ensure accessibility; and
(g) Intensify the implementation of strategies to combat HIV/AIDS, particularly preventive strategies, and to continue the provision of free antiretroviral treatment to all women and men living with HIV/AIDS, including pregnant women so as to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
41. The Committee commends the State party’s efforts to improve the livelihoods of rural women such as the adoption of the National Rural Women Programme, which is aimed at, inter alia, ensuring that rural women are included in decision making processes in rural communities. The Committee also notes that the State party has undertaken several programmes to improve entrepreneurship such as the Social Cash Transfer Programme and the provision of micro-finance loans. The Committee is, however, concerned that women continue to face obstacles that prevent their full participation in decision making processes particularly in local governance. The Committee is also concerned about women’s limited access to infrastructure and social services such as healthcare, sanitation, potable water and electricity. The Committee is further concerned at the lack of information on the specific procedures that are followed in the granting of land concessions for economic activities on land owned or used by women and at reports of exploitation by private companies.
42. The Committee calls upon the State party to:
(a) Facilitate the full participation of women in rural development programmes and policies and decision-making, particularly in the Traditional National Council and Women’s Councils as well as integrate gender perspectives in the Local Governance Act, which is currently under review;
(b) Continue to expand women’s access to micro-finance and micro-credit at low interest rates so as to enable women to engage in income-generating activities and to start their own businesses;
(c) Seek international assistance and cooperation, if appropriate, which should focus on improving infrastructures in rural areas and the provision of services such as health care, sanitation, potable water, electricity;
(d) Ensure effective consultations with affected communities before granting concessions for the economic exploitation of lands and territories traditionally occupied or used by women to companies or third parties, and adhere to the obligation of obtaining the free, prior and informed consent of affected women; and
(e) Intensify efforts to collect disaggregated data on the status of older women, women with disabilities and widows, and combat the intersecting forms of discrimination which they encounter in society.
Marriage and family relations
43. The Committee notes the complexity of the different and sometimes contradictory customary and civil marital regimes in the State party with varied legal implications, and is concerned at the lack of awareness among women as to their choices of applicable legal mechanisms for redress and their consequences. The Committee is further concerned that the legal age of marriage for girls under customary law is 16 while it is 18 under statutory law, which has a bearing on efforts to combat child and/or forced marriages. It is also concerned that the Inheritance Act of 2003, which harmonises inheritance rights of both customary and statutory marriages, is not being enforced. It is also concerned that under the Domestic Relations Law only the father has parental rights and custody of children after separation. It is further concerned that under existing laws the economic rights of women in de facto unions are not protected.
44. The Committee recommends that the State party harmonise the legal age of marriage at 18 years for girls and boys and ensure that women who enter marriage under customary law are afforded equal protection as women who enter marriage under statutory law, as well as resort to redress in the general courts. The State party should also ensure that after the harmonisation of these laws, inheritance rights under both customary and statutory marriages are in line with the Convention and are effectively enforced, and ensure that women are fully informed about the changes in the law. The Committee urges the State Party to amend the Domestic Relations Law and ensure equal parental rights to women in all cases, and provide for the best interest of the child to be the governing principle in matters of child custody. It also calls upon the State Party to adopt necessary legislative measures to ensure to protect the economic rights of women in de facto unions.
Optional Protocol to the Convention
45. The Committee encourages the State party to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention.
Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action
46. The Committee calls upon the State party to utilize the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, in its efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention.
2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
47. The Committee calls for the realization of substantive gender equality, in accordance with the provisions of the Convention, throughout the process of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
48. The Committee recalls the obligation of the State party to systematically and continuously implement the provisions of the Convention. It urges the State party to give priority attention to the implementation of the present concluding observations and recommendations between now and the submission of the next periodic report. The Committee therefore requests the timely dissemination of the concluding observations, in the official language(s) of the State party, to the relevant state institutions at all levels (national, regional, local), in particular to the Government, the ministries, the Parliament, Senate and to the judiciary, to enable their full implementation. It encourages the State party to collaborate with all stakeholders concerned, such as employers’ associations, trade unions, human rights and women’s organisations, universities and research institutions, media, etc. It further recommends that its concluding observations be disseminated in an appropriate form at the local community level, to enable their implementation. In addition, the Committee requests the State party to continue to disseminate the CEDAW Convention, its Optional Protocol and jurisprudence, and the Committee’s General Recommendations to all stakeholders.
49. The Committee recommends that the State party consider seeking international assistance and cooperation and availing itself of technical assistance in the development and implementation of a comprehensive programme aimed at the implementation of the above recommendations as well as the Convention as a whole. The Committee also calls upon the State party to continue its cooperation with specialized agencies and programmes of the United Nations system.
Ratification of other treaties
50. The Committee notes that the adherence of the State party to the nine major international human rights instruments would enhance the enjoyment by women of their human rights and fundamental freedoms in all aspects of life. The Committee therefore encourages the State party to consider ratifying the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and other treaties to which it is not yet a party.
Follow-up to concluding observations
51. The Committee requests the State party to provide, within two years, written information on the steps undertaken to implement the recommendations contained in paragraphs 12 and 26(b), (c), (d), (e) above.
Preparation of the next report
52. The Committee invites the State party to submit its ninth periodic report in November 2019.
53. The Committee requests the State party to follow the “Harmonized guidelines on reporting under the international human rights treaties, including guidelines on a common core document and treaty-specific documents” (HRI/MC/2006/3 and Corr.1).
[*] Adopted by the Committee at its sixty-second session (26 October-20 November 2015).