(By Francis Ameyibor, GNA Special Correspondent; Geneva, Switzerland)
The 59th Session of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has opened in Geneva, Switzerland with a call on governments to step-up national action to end gender-based discrimination.
The CEDAW conference also reminded Governments (States parties) of their commitment to take all appropriate measures, including legislation and temporary special measures, so that women could enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra?ad Al Hussein, in a speech read for him, lauded CEDAW?s work with the Committee on the Rights of the Child for a joint general recommendation to address harmful practices.
The speech read by Ms Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the adoption of the recommendation would send a good signal that the treaty bodies were seeking coherence and cohesion in matters of both substance and procedure.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights said the session also sought to give effect to the General Assembly Resolution 68/268 on the strengthening of the treaty body system.
?This landmark resolution, adopted in April this year, not only responds to the call to grant the treaty bodies additional resources to address backlogs of reports, but also makes numerous suggestions to harmonize the working methods and procedures of treaty bodies,? he said.
?What is important now is to consider how these proposals can be fully implemented.?
Meanwhile in an interview with the Ghana News Agency on the sidelines of the CEDAW conference, Ms Catherine Bob-Milliar, a Director, Department of Gender, Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, said Ghana had progressively adopted measures to eliminate discrimination against women.
She identified some legislative interventions as the amendment of the Intestate Succession Law and the introduction of a Property Rights of Spouses Bill, which are intended to combat negative cultural practices that subjugate women?s rights to inheritance as a result of customary
However, Mrs Bob-Milliar said the phenomenon of women being accused of witchcraft existed in the Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions of the country.
?Currently, a total of six alleged witches? camps are located in five Districts in the Northern Region: Kukuo, Gnani-Tindang,
Gambaga, Bonyase, Tindan-zhie (Kpatinga) and Nabuli in Nanumba South, Yendi, East Mamprusi, Central Gonja and Gushegu Districts respectively.
The Government and nongovernmental organizations, she said, had been making efforts to address the situation.
These include awareness-raising programmes on the camps and their harmful effects on women by the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE).
Others are the development of a roadmap for eliminating the camps by the ActionAid-Ghana and the ?Go Home Project,? of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana.
She explained that the roadmap had been handed over to the MoGCSP, which was studying it to determine how best to strengthen the collaboration and collective efforts towards removing the camps.
She said the Gender Ministry was also working with the governmental and non-governmental partners to close down the camps.
?The passage of the Mental Health Act, 2012 (Act 846) marked a major milestone in the re-focusing of mental health care in Ghana from an institution-based system to a community-based approach, which seeks to address the stigma and discrimination that persons with mental disabilities are often met with,? she said.
The Act offers protection to the rights of persons with mental disabilities as well as special protection measures for vulnerable groups, including women, children and the aged, she said.
?Under section 94 of the Mental Health, it is an offence to neglect a person with a mental disability, discriminate against such a person within the terms of the Act or breach any of his or her fundamental rights under any other law,? she noted.
CEDAW, adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as an ?International Bill of rights for Women?; it defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.
The Convention defines discrimination against women as “…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex, which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”
The Convention is the only human rights treaty, which affirms the reproductive rights of women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles and family relations.
It affirms women’s rights to acquire, change or retain their nationality and the nationality of their children.
Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice.
States parties agree to take appropriate measures against all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of women.
They are also committed to submit national reports, at least every four years, on measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations.