July 9, 2012 began the 52nd Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. This session, which continues for three weeks, includes reviews of the reports submitted by several countries that are up for review. Each country that is a party to the Convention must submit periodic reports as an accountability measure detailing how they are complying with the requirements of the Convention, along with progress and updates relevant to the Convention. Upon reviewing each country’s submission, the Committee is then able to question the country regarding its report, and make general recommendations. While the reports are intended to detail all areas of the country that pertain to the Convention, there are often gaps in information or areas that are not given the same degree of focus as others. Proposing questions to the country’s delegation allows the Committee to dig deeper to find out that missing information, or reasons as to why it was not included in the first place, as well as to challenge any areas where the country does not appear to be meeting the standards required by the Convention.
On July 17, Mexico was up for review. The head of the Mexican delegation began by presenting a synopsis of the country report to the Committee. After about an hour, the question and answer period began where many issues were discussed including women’s access to education, female representation in government, violence against women, and more. While there seemed to be a heavy focus on addressing the state of violence against women and female missing persons, there was a noticeable lack of attention to the issue of women’s access to abortions and the inconsistent policies throughout the country relating to abortions. The subject of abortion was not raised during Mexico’s introductory presentation and even in the question period it took a significant amount of time for anyone to even mention it.
The questioning segment of the review is conducted by taking several questions at a time, and then intermittently allowing the delegation up for review to organize a response to all of the questions presented so as to allow for efficient answers and avoid overlap and repetition. While this method does allow for consolidation of responses, it also presents the opportunity to gloss over certain questions or parts of questions, which is precisely what happened with most of the instances where abortion was included as a part of a question. CEDAW experts asked about ensuring that federalism would not be used to perpetuate the limiting of women’s human rights and about the impact of failure to universally provide abortions on maternal mortality rates. In both instances, the delegation attempted to skirt the issue, but when they were finally pressed upon it, they were forced to concede their shortcomings.
Mexico universally allows for abortion in the case of rape. However in other circumstances, the individual states within Mexico determine their own legislation on the issue, and there are several states that protect life at conception. This inconsistency and great potential for discrimination precipitated the question on federalism. The delegation finally admitted that due to the current state of Mexican laws, it is possible that one’s degree of protection against discrimination varies simply depending upon where she is born. They recognized that they must make headway in terms of equality in this area, especially regarding their CEDAW obligations, and they have not yet achieved this. The delegation furthermore stated that failure to provide access to safe abortions continues to be one of the leading causes, the 5thleading cause to be exact, of maternal mortality. While they claim that Mexico is committed to reducing the maternal mortality rate, they simultaneously have disclosed that the 7% of maternal deaths result from abortion related issues, and that figure is not decreasing fast enough despite the programs and measures put in place.
The main point of concern is surprisingly, not only the fact that Mexico has such a long way to go in the realm of guaranteeing universally equal abortion rights and working towards decreasing maternal mortality rates. The most disconcerting facet of this situation is how easily overlooked the entire topic of abortion almost was. Not only was Mexico ready to push abortion aside and hope no one would bring it up, but when it was brought up, the delegation was almost completely able to leave those questions unanswered. Only when the CEDAW experts consistently and adamantly pressed for answers to their questions was the delegation finally sufficiently cornered such that they couldn’t avoid the question any longer. The purpose of reviewing the parties to the Convention is to ensure that the parties are adhering to the Convention. The only way to truly ensure this is if all parties cooperate and participate in an honest manner. It is hardly expected that upon signing a treaty every party will instantly conform to the requirements of that treaty. Instead, progress and effort must be demonstrated that the parties are moving in the direction of full fulfillment of the requirements. However, either for fear of sanctions, unwillingness to make the necessary changes, or some other motivator that prevents parties from addressing the areas they need to improve in, parties seem to consistently fail to fully convey an accurate portrayal of what is happening in the country. Fortunately, NGOs often pick up the slack by filing shadow reports, making sure that Committees has a more complete picture of the state of affairs. However, the CEDAW review of Mexico highlights the need for countries to be more amenable to complete, true reports, and shows the need for Committee members and any other reviewing body to take a skeptical eye to reports submitted by countries.