With a current population of 670.000, of which women make up for 50.4%, the Comoros faces an explosive demographic growth rate of 2.1%. The Comoros has been a melting pot for many years but remains firmly anchored in Muslim faith.
The Comoros ratified CEDAW in 1994 with no reservations, and was presenting its periodic reports to the Committee for the first time. Although required by Article 18 of the Convention, the Comoros had so far been unable to produce reports due to the lack of a national mechanism for implementation and follow-up of the provisions of the Convention.
The Comorian delegate highlighted the progress made by the Comoros over the last 20 years in terms of women’s rights and women’s participation in public life. While he noted that anti-discriminatory programs and customary laws often conflict and make it more difficult to implement change, he highlighted the significant desire to meet the requirements of the Convention and reiterated the intention of the Comoros to adapt its legislation accordingly. Furthermore, the First Lady is also sensitive to the cause and is working directly with NGOs to promote women’s rights.
In terms of violence against women, the legal framework protects women against all forms of violence. The age of consent to marriage is 18 for both sexes and forced marriages can be annulled. Although precise statistics on domestic violence were not available, helplines have been established and training sessions on violence were organized for social workers, educators, magistrates and health-care workers. Although condemned by society, domestic violence continues to take place.
Patricia Schulz, member of the CEDAW Committee, noted the lack of participation and representation of women in political and public life: only one woman in Parliament, one in Government and very few in the public service. She called for the implementation of temporary special measures to increase such participation, including affirmative actions, to accelerate the achievement of equality between men and women in the public sphere. Moreover, the unemployment rate among women is twice that among men (19.2% versus 9.2%) and young girls were particularly affected by unemployment. Women were also more likely to occupy unsalaried and less protected positions.
The report presented by the Comoros (CEDAW/C/COM1-4, paragraph 219) states that organized prostitution, trafficking in women and exploitation of prostitution of women have no place in the country. However, the Committee noted that the Comoros is a country of origin for victims of trafficking, especially children, and expressed concerns about the spread of STDs through prostitutes. Prompted by the Committee who asked whether public awareness campaigns have been conducted and whether police forces were trained to respond to the threat, the Comorian delegate said an organization existed in the capital to assist sex workers. The Committee further called on the Comoros to ratify the Palermo Protocol and to initiate a collection of sex-disaggregated data on the number of women and girls victim of trafficking for the purposes of sexual and economic exploitation.
While Comorian legislation ensures equal access to education for boys and girls, a marked literacy gender gap of approximately 13.4% pervades, female literacy being considerably lower than male. To meet the challenges of gender parity in schools, the Comorian government drafted a national action plan for 2005-07 to promote girls’ education, with the goal of achieving an enrolment rate of 83.4% for girls and boys. However, the action plan seems to have benefited boys more than girls: noting that there are fewer girls than boys at every level of education, Barbara Bailey, member of the CEDAW Committee, expressed worry at the alarming situation of girls’ dropout, particularly at the secondary level.
The Health Code (Act No. 95-103/AF) does not discriminate between men and women. The Comoros reviewed its National Health Policy and its implementation plan in 1996 and affirmed that health is a basic right of all Comorians without discrimination. Despite a decrease in recent years, the maternal mortality rate remained high (380 per 100.000 live births in 2003). The use of contraceptives was low (with 19% of individuals reporting using a form of contraception), and the fertility rate was estimated in 2008 at 4.9 children per woman.
By Vibeke B. Thomsen, GenderHopes