Rape and Domestic Violence: Gender-based violence remained a serious concern. Although rape is a crime, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, failures to investigate or prosecute cases of alleged rape and sexual abuse were common, as were long delays. Authorities reported that the backlog of court cases led some communities to address rape accusations through traditional law, which does not always provide justice to victims. The definition of rape under the penal code appears broad enough to make spousal rape a crime, although that definition had not been tested in the courts.
In 2010 the Law against Domestic Violence was enacted to provide protection and defense to vulnerable groups, including women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities, against all forms of violence, exploitation, discrimination, abandonment, oppression, sexual abuse, and mistreatment. During the year the PNTL received 153 reports of domestic abuse and referred them to the prosecutor general for investigation and prosecution.
Domestic violence against women was a significant problem, often exacerbated by the reluctance of authorities to respond aggressively. The PNTL’s Vulnerable Persons Units (VPUs) generally handled cases of domestic violence and sexual crimes. Women’s organizations assessed VPU performance as variable: some officials actively pursued cases, while others preferred to handle them through mediation or as private family matters. VPU operations were severely constrained by lack of support and resources. Police at times came under pressure from community members to ignore cases of domestic violence or sexual abuse. The PNTL disciplinary code allows the PNTL to impose disciplinary sanctions on police who commit domestic violence in their own homes. The government and civil society actively promoted awareness campaigns to combat violence against women, including rape.
Sexual Harassment: A new labor law that took effect in June prohibits sexual harassment in the work place, but such harassment reportedly was widespread.
Reproductive Rights: The government recognized the right of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Economic considerations limited women’s access to family planning information and education. Contraceptive use was low, although the Ministry of Health and NGOs promoted both natural and modern family planning methods, including the distribution of intrauterine devices, injectable contraceptives, and condoms. The results of a demographic and health survey released in 2010 indicated significant improvements in mortality rates, but adult women continued to suffer from higher mortality than men, and pregnancy and pregnancy-related causes accounted for 42 percent of deaths for women ages 15-49. According to 2010 estimates by the UN Population Fund, the maternal mortality rate in the country was 370 deaths per 100,000 live births. Thirty percent of women had skilled attendance during childbirth, 61 percent of mothers received antenatal care from a medical professional, and 32 percent of mothers received postpartum care. An UNMIT report released in September 2011 described a woman with disabilities who was sterilized without consent after giving birth.
Discrimination: Some customary practices discriminate against women. For example, in some regions or villages where traditional practices hold sway, women may not inherit or own property. Traditional cultural practices such as payment of a bride price also occurred. Women were disadvantaged also in pursuing job opportunities at the village level.
The constitution guarantees equal rights to own property, but in practice traditional inheritance systems tended to exclude women from land ownership. Parliament debated and passed a national land law, which included more specific rights for women’s ownership of land, but the legislation was vetoed by the former president for unrelated reasons.
The secretary of state for the promotion of equality in the Prime Minister’s Office is responsible for the promotion of gender equality. UNMIT’s Gender Affairs Unit also monitored discrimination against women. Women’s NGOs worked under an umbrella organization called Rede Feto (Women’s Network), which coordinated the work of NGOs working on women’s issues and provided input to draft legislation on women’s issues, such as the 2010 Law on Domestic Violence. The secretary of state for the promotion of equality and the advisor to the prime minister for civil society coordinated and supported the work of Rede Feto.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity and women’s organizations offered some assistance to female victims of violence, including shelters for victims of domestic violence and incest, a safe room at the national hospital for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and escorts to judicial proceedings.