Brazil undergoes review by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

Discrimination against women: UN committee reviews situation in Brazil

Foto: Divulgação/ONU Foto: Divulgação/ONU

On 23 May 2024, Brazil will undergo a review process by the UN Committee that monitors compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

The CEDAW Committee will assess the situation of girls’ and women’s rights in the country in accordance with the provisions of the treaty monitored by the entity, which was fully ratified by the Brazilian state in 2002. Following this assessment, the committee will present new recommendations.

The review will take into account contributions submitted by civil society, including two reports signed by Conectas and 13 other organizations on sexual and reproductive rights and child pregnancy in Brazil.

What is CEDAW?

The United Nations General Assembly established the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1979. Today, CEDAW is the principal international instrument in the fight for women to exercise fundamental freedoms in the same way as men and have their human rights respected. 

The CEDAW Committee is currently composed of 23 experts on women’s rights from various parts of the world. It is to these experts that the 186 member states must periodically report on the measures they are adopting to eliminate discrimination against women and the progress they have made in this regard.

CEDAW has contributed, for example, to the development and establishment of property and political participation rights in Costa Rica, domestic violence laws in Turkey, Nepal, South Africa, and South Korea and to a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.

Demands sent to the Committee

CEDAW asked civil society to provide information that could contribute to the evaluation of Brazil. To this end, Conectas joined forces with organizations such as the Coletivo Feminista Sexualidade e Saúde, Sexuality Policy Watch (SPW), Anis, Criola, and the Instituto Terra, Trabalho e Cidadania (ITTC) and submitted two reports on the perpetuation of the violation of sexual and reproductive rights in the country.

One of them addresses the situation more generally, highlighting a reduction in access to contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in recent years and the worsening maternal mortality rates, exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also exposes the impacts of the criminalisation of abortion, including barriers to accessing the procedure in legally permitted cases and the persecution of patients and healthcare professionals involved in the practice.

The second report focuses on forced pregnancy in childhood and adolescence, a matter directly associated with the record number of rapes of vulnerable individuals in the country, in 2023 (74,930 victims). Currently, there are around 19,000 births per year to mothers aged 10 to 14, a rate of early pregnancy which is above the global average.

Both reports include a series of recommendations to the Brazilian state. Among them are the development of a health protocol for specialised care for children in situations of sexual violence and the training of professionals working in assistance services to ensure they are equipped to handle these cases and make appropriate referrals, including for legal abortion when desired.

The organizations emphasise the need to decriminalise abortion to address a significant public health issue: the high number of deaths and hospitalisations resulting from unsafe abortions, particularly among Black and Indigenous people, and those living in peripheral and rural areas.

The Committee’s Assessment

At the beginning of June, CEDAW released its report with recommendations to the Brazilian State, highlighting the need for more effective actions to safeguard and promote women’s rights, especially those of human rights defenders, indigenous women, quilombolas and women of African descent.

Among the main guidelines, the Committee emphasises:

  • Safeguarding women who are human rights defenders: The State must strengthen safeguarding from threats, attacks, harassment, intimidation and the criminalisation of the work of these women, ensuring the punishment of those responsible, including public officials. Special attention must be given to women working on land demarcation and registration.
  • Strengthening protection programmes: It is crucial to improve protection programmes for human rights defenders, with an emphasis on rural areas, to allow activists to work freely and exercise their fundamental rights.
  • Legislation against online violence: The Committee recommends the creation of specific laws to criminalise online violence, cyberattacks, and disinformation campaigns, particularly regarding gender-based violence.

The Committee also highlights the importance of continuing to implement and strengthen educational measures to promote gender equality and combat patriarchal stereotypes, as well as encouraging the equal sharing of family responsibilities between men and women.

In the fight against gender-based violence, the recommendations include:

  • Prevention and punishment: Strengthen measures to prevent and punish those responsible for gender-based violence.
  • Shelters: Allocate resources to ensure the continued funding of shelters and increase their number.
  • Programme expansion: Expand the “Programa Mulher Viver sem Violência” (Women Living Without Violence Programme) and increase the coverage of women’s police stations, especially in rural areas.
  • Indigenous Women’s House: Accelerate the creation of specific units for Indigenous women, with appropriate services and procedures.

Additionally, the Committee highlights the need to combat human trafficking, especially of women and girls, recommending:

  • Inter-agency coordination: Improve coordination across different agencies and allocate adequate funds for national action plans.
  • Investigation and protection: Improve investigations, ensure the punishment of perpetrators and provide protection and temporary residence permits to victims.
  • Alternative income programmes: Promote alternative income programmes and decent work for groups that are vulnerable to trafficking.
  • Support services: Ensure adequate support services, including specialised long-term shelters.

Regarding health, the Committee recommends:

  • Legalisation of abortion: Legalise and decriminalise abortion, ensuring access to safe services.
  • Reduction of maternal mortality: Improve access to prenatal and postnatal care and emergency obstetric services.
  • Indigenous health: Recognise and integrate traditional Indigenous health systems, recruiting native health professionals and doctors to provide care in Indigenous areas.

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