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. An UNMIT report released in September described a lack of accountability in the cases of nine women with disabilities who were raped during the year. The UNMIT report suggested the women were targeted for attack because of their disability.
In May 2010, parliament passed the Law against Domestic Violence. The law 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 authorities received 210 reports of domestic abuse. The Ministry of Justice was investigating 81 cases, the police were investigating 16 cases, the court was processing 20 cases and two people were convicted of domestic abuse.
Domestic violence against women was a significant problem, often exacerbated by the reluctance of authorities to respond aggressively. Cases of domestic violence and sexual crimes generally were handled by the PNTL's Vulnerable Persons Units (VPUs). Women's organizations assessed VPU performance as variable: Some officials actively pursued cases and 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 new PNTL disciplinary code allows the PNTL to impose disciplinary sanctions on police who commit domestic violence in their own homes. The government actively promoted awareness campaigns to combat violence against women, including rape.
Sexual Harassment: No law prohibits sexual harassment, which was reportedly widespread, particularly within some government ministries and the police.
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. Women's access to family planning information, education, and supplies was limited principally by economic considerations. 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 42 percent of such deaths were associated with pregnancy and childbirth. 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 only 32 percent of mothers received postpartum care. Women and men had equal access to diagnostic and treatment services for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. An UNMIT report released in September 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 also disadvantaged 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 a national land law, which included more specific rights for women's ownership of land, but at year's end no land law legislation had passed.
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). Rede Feto coordinated the work of NGOs working on women's issues and provided input to draft legislation on women's issues, such as the recent 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.