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Monitoring state obligation to women's equality: the Indian consultative model. (Programme).

CEDAW-related Activities in India

In India, CEDAW-related activities began around the Beijing conference. In 1998, with the efforts of IWRAW Asia Pacific, a core group of activists, lawyers and institutions was established to monitor India's fulfilment of its obligations under the CEDAW Convention through a project called "Facilitating the Fulfilment of State Obligation to Women's Equality" (Facilitating Project). The project's first activity was to conduct research and write preliminary baseline reports giving the necessary benchmark data to identify women's status and contributory causes and gaps in India's fulfilment of its obligation. Three issues were identified for the reports: 1) Women's political participation; 2) Armed conflict in the North East region; and 3)Article 16 of the CEDAW Convention on the rights of women in marriage, to which India has a declaration. (1) The research aimed to provide enough information for preparing the alternative report when the CEDAW Committee reviews the State report. (2)

The Preparation of an NGO Alternative Report to the CEDAW Committee

When India was scheduled to present its initial report to the CEDAW Committee in January 2000 in New York, it was only timely that the women NGOs should present an alternative report. A core team was already monitoring the implementation of the CEDAW Convention, thus making the NGOs' task easier. Sixteen groups were commissioned to look at the different Articles of the Convention. The alternative report aimed to record the de facto situation (see Definitions p.11) of women in relation to equality and non-discrimination as stated in the CEDAW Convention. To enhance the consultative process, a National Conference involving NGOs from all over India was held to finalise the report's substance and raise awareness on the significance of the Convention, its reporting process and how NGOs may feed into it by submitting alternative reports. Relevant government officers were invited so that they would benefit from the discussions. The whole process involved:

1) A one-day orientation for selected NGO and government representatives on the Convention's principles and the scope of State obligation [held on 13 November 1999 by UNIFEM-South Asia, IWRAW Asia Pacific and the National Alliance of Women (NAWO), involving the sharing of experiences of Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh whose reports had already been reviewed];

2) A two-day conference on preparing an alternative report (held from 14 to 15 November 1999 in New Delhi by NAWO with technical help from IWRAW Asia Pacific;

3) The actual preparation of the report (done from September to December 1999 with coordination by NAWO and technical help and guidelines from IWRAW Asia Pacific); and

4) The participation of 11 women in the official CEDAW review of the Indian Government's report in January 2000.

The Keys to Effective Monitoring

The whole process was well thought out in terms of what actions and information were needed and by whom. The one-day orientation was attended by NGOs and government representatives and raised the required awareness, followed by consultation on the three baseline reports and the preparation of the alternative report. Drafts of the various chapters of the alternative report were prepared before the meeting and presented. The lead groups that developed these chapters were Partners for Law in Development (PLD) (New Delhi), SANLAAP (Calcutta), National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) (Bangalore), ADITI (Bihar), IWID (Initiatives: Women in Development) (Chennai), Indian Institute of Management (Bangalore), Centre for Health Education, Training and Nutrition Awareness (CHETNA) (Ahmedabad), AALI-WAMA (Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiative) (Lucknow), North East Network (NEN) (Shillong) and the National Federation of Dalit Women (New Delhi). Women from at least 70 organisations took part in the consultation. Also important was the conscious invitation to CEDAW Committee members to participate. Three members, Hanna Beate Schopp-Schilling (Germany), Salma Khan (Bangladesh) and Savitri Goonesekere (Sri Lanka) attended and obtained first-hand information on the situation of women in India.

For the first time in the history of the women's movement in India, an alternative report was being submitted to the United Nations. The 11-member team participated in the official CEDAW review of the Indian Government's report to the CEDAW Committee. They presented the alternative report to the Committee members and had several informal dialogues with them, made possible through an IWRAW Asia Pacific project called "Global to Local" The project facilitated the women's presence at the CEDAW sessions to:

1) Monitor States Parties' performance during the review and raise pertinent issues on the position of women in their country;

2) Familiarise the NGO representatives with the UN mechanisms to monitor the implementation of the Convention, in particular, the dynamics of the reporting process and the mechanics of the CEDAW meetings, and the role NGOs can play within those proceedings; and

3) Plan for monitoring State Party compliance with CEDAW recommendations and fulfilment of State obligation to implement the CEDAW Convention upon their return.

Problems Faced

While India already had a core group monitoring implementation of the CEDAW Convention, the news that India would present its report in January 2000 gave the NGOs only four months to produce a comprehensive alternative report. The CEDAW Committee was supported in the drafting of its Concluding Comments-from the chapters where the alternative report was strong. For example, paragraphs 78 and 79 of the Concluding Comments noted with concern:

1) that India's maternal and infant mortality rates are among the highest worldwide;

2) the adverse sex ratio and the incidence of sex-selective abortions despite a prohibitive law; and

3) that family planning only targeted women.

The Committee called upon the government to:

1) adopt a holistic approach to women's health throughout the life-cycle in its health programmes and allocate resources from a "women's right to health" perspective, following the guidelines of the Committee's general recommendation 24 (3);

2) get medical associations' support to enforce professional ethics and prevent sex-selective abortions; and

3) get the medical profession's support to create awareness of the urgent need to eliminate practices linked to son preference. (4)

Achievements and Outcomes

* The National Conference united women on issues of discrimination. In particular, the presence of the Committee members and the opportunity to dialogue with them enhanced the quality of the CEDAW review.

* A cross-fertilisation of the experiences within the region occurred as government and NGO representatives shared their experiences through the one-day orientation organised on the CEDAW Convention's principles and the scope of State obligation.

* The participation of the core group members in the Facilitating Project during the review greatly enhanced their capability for advocacy. The CEDAW Committee praised the capacity and effectiveness of the 11 women who were funded by FORD New York and UNIFEM. Only four were core group members but through the regional meetings and the national consultation, the core group had catalysed the capability of the rest.

Follow-Up Action

When the team returned from New York, several women's groups in India requested a debriefing. Intensive discussions were held and Ruth Manorama of NAWO discussed the recommendations contained in the Concluding Comments in a follow-up meeting. It roused all-round enthusiasm from the women's and human rights groups and government circles. NAWO (5) held another follow-up meeting in Delhi from 22 to 23 July 2000 to develop a methodology to implement the Concluding Comments and strategise the monitoring of its implementation. This included encouraging primary research on the effectiveness of State action; the setting up of resource centres to act as repositories for the information collected and as a clearinghouse for information on the UN human rights system; and the regional training of trainers. Another major national convention is planned for October 2002 on the review of the Concluding Comments.

* Endnotes

(1) According to the United Nations, the declaration made by India has the effect of a reservation.

(2) The CEDAW Committee reports to the UN General Assembly through the UN Economic and Social Council. The members of the Committee are elected pursuant to Article 17 of the CEDAW Convention by States Parties from among nationals of that country. It is however important to note that CEDAW members serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of that State Party.

(3) See <www.iwraw-ap.org/GR23-24.html#GR24> for the complete General Recommendation No. 24 on Women and Health.

(4) Paragraphs 78 and 79 of the Concluding Observations of the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women: India. 01/01/2000. N55/38, paras.30-90. (Concluding Observations/Comments) retrieved on 4 July 2002 from Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights website at <www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc/nsf/(Symbol)/ A.55.38,paras.30-90.En?Opendocument>.

(5) NAWO coordinated the entire preparation of the alternative report and organised the team to New York.

* Compiled by Angela M. Kuga Thas, Programme Manager, ARROW, based on various reports by IWRAW Asia Pacific to UNIFEM South Asia and the Ford Foundation; inputs from Ruth Manorama of NAWO; and Geetha Devi M.P., Advocate. For more details, please contact Ruth Manorama at NAWO, U-9, II Floor, Green Park Extension, New Delhi-110016, India; Tel: (9180) 6178622/6171446; Fax: (9180) 6178622; E-mail: <nawo@del6.ndf.vsnl.in>.
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Author:Thas, Angela M. Kuga
Publication:Arrows For Change
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:May 1, 2002
Words:1500
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