All Woman

Calls for amendments to discrimination laws

Nadine Wilson

Monday, October 29, 2012    

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POLICYMAKERS have indicated that there are no plans to replace the term "being male or female" with the word "sex" in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms which now replaces Chapter Three of the Jamaican Constitution, despite increasing pressure to make such an amendment.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) had raised the issue during its most recent meeting with representatives from Jamaica at its New York headquarters. The committee had questioned whether such a change was likely to be made, in keeping with previous recommendations that the term "sex" ought to be used instead as a prohibited ground of discrimination. The group had also called for a clearer definition of discrimination in the new charter.

A similar concern was also raised by advocacy group Equal Rights Trust (ERT), which comprises human rights advocates from around the world. Following their research of Jamaica's laws and policies to protect against discrimination, the group recommended that the country further amend Section 13 of the Constitution to improve legal protection from discrimination.

"ERT is concerned that there is no legal definition of discrimination against women in either the Constitution or elsewhere in Jamaican law," the group said.

It went on to say that, "without such a definition, the Constitution will be interpreted narrowly and that the Constitution will thus be insufficient to address all forms of discrimination, including indirect discrimination and harassment in particular."

The group concluded that Section 13 (3) (i) of the charter is insufficient to guarantee Jamaica's obligation to ensure the respect and protection of human rights. It called on the Government to, among other things, explicitly prohibit discrimination on grounds of pregnancy or maternity, civil, career or family status, age, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity.

In response to calls to amend the charter, Jamaica's contingent to the CEDAW meeting noted that the old chapter three of the Constitution had not explicitly prohibited discrimination on the ground of "sex" either. The new chapter, they said, is therefore an improvement which clearly prohibits discrimination against anyone, including females.

The group, which comprised Information Minister Sandrea Falconer and Executive Director of the Bureau of Women's Affairs Faith Webster, noted that while the term "sex" is not explicitly used in the amended Constitution, it still has the effect of prohibiting discrimination.

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