26 January 2006
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee Takes up Report of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Experts Commend Rapid Progress, Urge Steps on Trafficking, Minority Rights, Women's Political Participation
NEW YORK, 25 January (UN Headquarters) -- The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today commended the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for the considerable progress it had made in advancing women's rights in a short period of time, while urging it to address the plight of prostitutes and trafficked women, improve conditions for ethnic women, and raise women's political voice.
The Committee's 23 independent experts were considering the combined initial, second and third periodic reports of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on its compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Quoting the country's report, one expert noted that "women normally engage in prostitution individually, but almost all of them have pimps who, under the cover of lovers or protectors, act mercilessly and take greater part of earnings". Emphasizing the need to combat sexual exploitation of women, she questioned whether the country had criminalized prostitution, and if pimps or prostitutes' clients were prosecuted for their behaviour.
Responding to that concern, a Macedonian delegate said the police had neutralized almost all prostitution centres over the past three years, and efforts had intensified to eliminate prostitution from urban apartments. As for prosecution, the police were handing out maximum penalties for pimping and white slavery, as evidenced by a recent "spectacular trial" that had sentenced a prominent pimp to five years' imprisonment.
Another member of the delegation added that the country had signed the United Nations Convention on Transnational Crime, a strategy and an action plan on trafficking and illegal migration had been laid down for 2006-2008, and several channels for trafficking in human beings had been terminated.
Turning to ethnic women, experts emphasized the need to focus on the plight of Roma, Albanian and other minority women, especially through temporary special measures to promote their rights. One expert quoted civil society sources that suggested minority women possessed the highest illiteracy and school dropout rates, the lowest rate of school attendance, and often the highest rate of unemployment. According to some sources, up to 60 per cent of Roma women had experienced discrimination, emphasizing the need for measures to reverse that situation.
Countering those remarks, the country's delegates noted that their nation was the only one to establish equal rights for ethnic groups in its Constitution, and lay down procedures for granting citizenship to Romas. Thus far, some 1,508 Roma had been granted the citizenship, with some 200 applications still being approved. They also noted that steps were being taken to include Roma children in the country's educational process, and to increase housing, as well as employment, for that group.
Introducing the country's report, Stevco Jakimovski, Minister of Labour and Social Policy, acknowledged that dropout rates for ethnic minorities were higher in certain communities, especially among the Roma and rural Albanian children. Efforts were being made to reintegrate those pupils into the educational system, especially through training and distribution of information materials.
Other experts expressed concern over the low representation of Macedonian women in decision-making positions, with one noting that the country's new 30 per cent quota for political nominees had failed to achieve the desired results, putting women into only 18 per cent of parliamentary seats. Adding that perhaps the quota should be even higher, and women informed they could vote or become candidates, another stressed the need to encourage women, including minority groups, to participate in the election process.
To those comments, a Macedonian speaker noted that three of the country's 17 government ministers were women, two served as deputy ministers, and more than half of its judges were women. Another added that an Albanian had been elected to the 2002 Parliament for the first time since 1990, and that four Albanian women currently served as parliamentarians. As for international affairs, 37 per cent of diplomats outside the country were women, although numbers of women serving in senior diplomatic posts was low.
Speakers today also pointed to sexual stereotypes in the country's media and school curricula, as well as the need to improve conditions for rural women. They also urged the country to adopt its proposed equal opportunities law, which aimed to establish equal opportunities for men and women in the political, economic, educational and other fields. Among other things, it would include a procedure for attorney assistance in discrimination cases, and a special committee on gender issues within the country's Parliament.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 26 January, to consider the report of Venezuela.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had before it combined initial, second and third reports of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in September 1991. It also signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention in 2000 and ratified it in 2003.
The country's Constitution provides equal freedoms and rights for all citizens, the report states. Equality between men and women is additionally implemented throughout the country's legal regulations. The national mechanism for gender equality is the Gender Equality Unit of the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy. In 1998, the country's Parliament enacted a Declaration on Gender Equality in the Decision-making Process. Further, the National Action Plan was adopted in December 1999.
The country's education system has had the most success in establishing equal treatment between men and women, the report states. Under the country's laws, non-discriminatory gender treatment in education is clear and explicit. Compulsory primary education applies to all children in Macedonia, regardless of their gender. This principle is also fully observed in the secondary education. Despite that, 75 per cent of the illiterate population is female.
In employment, every citizen has the right to work, free choice of a job, protection at work and financial support in case of unemployment. Most women outside the industrial sector are employed in health care and social protection, as well as in administration. Minors and mothers are guaranteed special protection at work. A pregnant woman cannot be assigned to jobs having a harmful impact on her health, or work nights. This protection also applies to women with a child under two years of age. Women have the right to an uninterrupted maternity leave of nine months, which is extended to one year in cases of multiple births. Employed women may commence maternity leave 45 days before delivery, but not later than 28 days before delivery. The father may exercise the right to a paternity leave in case of mother's death, if she abandons the child or if she is precluded from exercising her rights on justifiable grounds.
The country's Inheritance Law and Family Law stipulate that men and women have equal rights and obligations in family relations, parenthood and marriage. However, in practice, inheritance rights are not equal for men and women, due to the fact that women are less familiar with the institutions where they could find help and receive advice about their rights to inheritance, for example, after divorce.
According to the report, poverty affects women much worse than men, and an action plan is needed to address the situation. The Government also singles out the lack of women's participation at the decision-making level as one of the main gender-related problems. Recent legislative amendments have been directed towards promotion of gender equality and women's protection. Amendments have also been made to the Law on Employment, removing gender discrimination in several areas, including retirement age and years of service. Also, the Defence Law has been changed to allow women's participation in active military service. Amendments to the Criminal Code allow instituting court procedures based on private lawsuits in such cases as marital sexual abuse and rape.
Traditionally, women in the country have been placed in an inferior position compared to men, but efforts are being made to address this problem. Particular attention is given to the media, which can play an important role in shaping public perception of gender roles in society. For example, in October 2002, the country's Broadcasting Council publicly named eight television stations that were broadcasting "hot line" advertisements, containing scenes of explicit pornography, and warned them that misdemeanour procedures were going to be initiated against them.
The high prevalence of domestic violence in the country is well-known, the Government reports. Cultural norms, however, discourage reporting of domestic violence, using the excuse that it is "about a private family matter". Under the Criminal Code, domestic violence is not treated separately from other forms of violence and, therefore, is not monitored by government institutions. Violence against women is not sanctioned as a separate criminal offence, with the exception of rape. The notion of marital rape was introduced into the Criminal Code in 1996. However, the procedure pertaining to this kind of crime is initiated on the basis of a private complaint, unlike the other kinds of rape, where the procedure is initiated ex officio.
Women's organizations work within the constraints of their capacities and provide support and protection for women, "which, it must be admitted, is not sufficient", the report states. The police in Macedonia are still the only part of the legal system where women victims can report violence. There is only one shelter for violence victims in Skopje, supported by a non-governmental organization, and steps have been taken to encourage reporting and raise public awareness of the issue.
On human trafficking, the report states that young girls and women, mostly from the former socialist countries of eastern Europe, are brought to Macedonia to work as waitresses and escorts at night bars, clubs and cafes, "with the ultimate goal being their abuse for prostitution". In 2000, Macedonia signed the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols on human trafficking and migrant smuggling. Afterwards, an overall analysis of the compatibility of the provisions from the Convention with domestic legislation was undertaken. In 2002, the offence of "human trafficking" was introduced into the country's legislation. The Government has also established a National Commission on human trafficking and illegal migration. Emphasized in the national policies are extradition agreements with relevant countries; the improvement of communication between the prosecutor's offices, police departments and other relevant services; and exchange of information and data concerning the criminal groups and individuals.
Introduction of Reports
The country's reports were presented by its Minister of Labour and Social Policy, STEVCO JAKIMOVSKI, who said that progress had been achieved in a number of areas, including education, health care, political participation and the non-governmental sector. Still, much remained to be done in such areas of social and economic life as employment, the situation of rural women, violence and trafficking in women and girls.
He went on to outline the constitutional provisions providing for gender equality and said that related legislation had been further improved in the process of harmonization of the country's laws with relevant European Union legislation. In particular, the country had promulgated a new Law on labour Relations in 2005. The criminal and family codes had been reviewed, as well.
Notwithstanding a solid legal framework, functional institutional protection and rising policy awareness, women in Macedonia still faced some forms of discrimination, in particular those typical for traditional societies, he said. The Government was aware of the fact that it was crucial to mobilize all segments of society to eliminate gender discrimination.
One of the priorities under the National Plan on Gender Equality related to the empowerment of women, including equal access to politics and decision-making positions. For that purpose, in 2002, amendments had been introduced to the Law on Election of Members of Parliament, which provided that 30 per cent of nominees must be female. Following elections in 2002, out of the total of 120 elected Members of Parliament, 22 were women. In June 2004, similar amendments were introduced to the Law on Local Elections. As a result, 22.9 per cent of the 1,391 Council Members elected in 2004 were female -- an increase of 13.8 per cent, compared with the preceding elections. Committees on Gender Equality had been established in 10 cities with the goal of "exerting positive influence on the local-level politics, from the viewpoint of gender equality, in order to overcome specific problems the women are facing at the local level". The Committees had also prepared local action plans. Part of the affirmative action at the national level was a proposal to adopt a law on equal opportunities for men and women, which was currently under review.
One of the strategic aims at the national level was ensuring equal access to employment and equal treatment in regard to rewards and promotion. Thus, the country's new Labour Law incorporated the provisions of the European Council's Directive on Equal Access to Work, Education and Equal Conditions of Work, as well as the Directive on Burden of Proof in Case of Discrimination. The Law defined direct and indirect discrimination and the exceptions to prohibition of discrimination. Also, for the first time, it defined the notion of sexual harassment.
Women in Macedonia represented 40.7 per cent of employees, 20.9 per cent of employers, and 18.4 per cent of the self-employed, he said. At the end of 2005, 41.3 per cent of the unemployed were women. Education in Macedonia was accessible to all under equal conditions. In the process of the reform of the education system, a new national strategy for development of education had been elaborated and was now in the government procedure for review. As far as the stereotypes were concerned, the Ministry of Education had already introduced gender balanced curricula at all levels of education. While statistics showed balanced representation of students of both genders in the enrolment and upon graduation, dropout rates were higher in certain communities, especially among the Roma and rural ethnic Albanian children. Efforts were being made to reintegrate those pupils in the education system, in particular through training and distribution of information materials in order to detect the reasons for pupils' dropping out.
Turning to violence against women, he said that, according to the results of a recent research project, some 61.5 per cent of the women interviewed stated that they had had personal experience with some form of psychological violence. Some 24 per cent of them said that they had been victims of physical violence, and 5 per cent stated that their sexual integrity had been violated. An important segment in the reform of the criminal legislation was the introduction of domestic violence as a separate offence. The 2004 amendments to the Family Law had also introduced the offence of family violence. The State provided protection of the marriage and the family "from broken relations and violence in the marriage or in the family".
Any type of violence in the marriage and in the family was prohibited, he continued. New centres for the victims of family violence had been opened in the country. The Family Law also instituted a procedure of judicial protection, regardless of whether a criminal procedure had been instituted against the perpetrator. The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy provided continuous training, which would allow relevant personnel to recognize violence and provide assistance to family violence victims. Cross-sectoral training had been organized in cooperation with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on working with victims of family violence in the community.
In the area of women's health, he described two programmes that had been recently adopted by the Government for the protection of the population from AIDS and for early detection and prevention of the reproductive system diseases.
In conclusion, he said that in January of 2003, his country had hosted the Fifth European Ministerial Conference on Equality between Women and Men, organized by the Council of Europe. Among other things, the participants of the Conference had agreed on the need to draft a European Convention on Trafficking in Human Beings. His country had signed that instrument in November 2005.
Following that presentation, other members of the country's delegation were presented to the Committee, including the Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Igor Dzundev; Director of the State Statistical Office, Apostol Simovski; Coordinator of the Women's Parliament Club, Bladorodna Mingova-Krepieva; Svetlana Geleva of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Stojan Trajanov, Mabera Kamberi, Elena Grodanova and Jehona Ljatifi of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy; Elizabeta Gjorgijieva, Penelopa Gjurcilova of the country's Permanent Mission; Veselinka Ivanova of the Ministry for Education; President of the Union of Women's Organizations of Macedonia, Savka Todorovska; and Daniela Dimitrievska, Executive Director of the Macedonian Women's Lobby.
Experts' Comments and Questions
DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, commended the high level of the country's representation in the Committee and asked about the procedure used in the preparation of the reports. Had the report been formally presented and formally adopted by the Government and the Parliament? She also wanted to know about the status of the Convention in the domestic legislation. Were there any cases when the provisions of the Convention were directly invoked in domestic courts? Her other questions related to education on the Convention and translation of the Committee's general recommendations.
VICTORIA POPESCU, expert from Romania, asked what measures the Macedonian Government had carried out to ensure broad dissemination of the Convention and its Protocol, and whether they had been translated into other languages of the country. She also wondered whether awareness campaigns on the Convention had been carried out among non-governmental organizations, trade unions, and women's associations.
SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, stressed the importance of State sanctions for discriminatory practices and asked whether any had been applied. She also queried whether the country had any regulatory measures in place to combat trafficking against women. Did it have programmes to sensitize law enforcement agencies and judges about women's rights?
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, noted that the European Union directives mentioned as reference documents mainly concerned non-discrimination in the labour market, while the Convention dealt with equality in all areas of economic, social and political life. What was the scope of the country's new law on equal opportunities? Would it provide a basis for gender equality in all areas of life? How would the country ensure that such equality would be achieved?
HUGUETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, expert from Benin, asked whether there were any particular points in the proposed equal opportunities law that had been the focus of parliamentary discussions, and if it would be adopted in the near future. What steps had been taken by the Government to ensure that women were informed about defending their rights?
NAELA MOHAMED GABR, expert from Egypt, pointed to the considerable number of Roma women in the country and asked what was being done for them. Was there any machinery in place in the country to monitor application of the Convention? If so, how was monitoring achieved?
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, asked for clarification on the status of the Convention. Were the country's national laws ever in conflict with the Convention, and could it set aside national laws? He also requested information on the country's Ombudsman, and cases on women's rights.
On the preparation of the reports, a member of the delegation said that it had been a very transparent process, with contributions from all around the country. Before being submitted to the United Nations, the reports had been adopted by the Government and presented to non-governmental organizations. Working meetings had taken place within the Macedonian Women's Lobby. Transparency was also ensured by wide media coverage.
Regarding the implementation of the Convention at the national level, another delegate said that it had primacy over national laws. However, there were no cases of direct application of the Convention in domestic courts. The Constitution guaranteed equality and prohibited all discrimination, but gender was not directly pointed out as grounds for non-discrimination. However, gender discrimination was also addressed by a number of new domestic laws, including the Labour Code.
A country representative said that a debate was now under way on the new a law on equal opportunities. The law was aiming to establish the principle of equal opportunity for men and women in the political, economic, political, educational and other fields. Among other things, it would provide certain positive discrimination measures to promote women's participation. A procedure for the attorneys' assistance in cases of discrimination was also foreseen, as well as the establishment of a special committee on gender issues within the Parliament.
The Parliament had recently amended the country's Family Law as far as domestic violence was concerned, another speaker said. It related to any form of violence committed within the household, by any family member, regardless of age, including married or non-married partners. Very precise and accurate statistics were kept in the country on the matter.
On the Labour Code, another member of the delegation said that it was only part of the organic laws in the area of employment. Some issues were regulated by the provisions of other laws. While general discrimination on various grounds, including on the basis of gender, in the area of employment was prohibited by the Labour Law, most specific issues would be regulated by the law on equal opportunity. Both direct and indirect discrimination in the area of labour was prohibited. Career development, access to vocational training, re-qualification, working conditions and equality of salaries, as well as cancellation of contracts and activities of the associations of professional associations, were regulated by the law. Sexual harassment had also been defined.
Another delegate added that the Labour Law also provided for prohibition of women's work in mines and other harmful places, as well as their work on late shifts.
Several delegates also addressed the situation of the Roma people. Macedonia was the only country that had established their equal rights in the Constitution and specified the procedures for granting citizenship for the members of the Roma ethnic group. Roma non-governmental organizations played an important role in the country. The Ministry of the Interior had prepared brochures on various legal issues in the Roma language. There were a total of 1,508 Roma who had been granted the country's citizenship, with some 200 still in the process of approval.
Another member of the delegation said the Convention had been translated into Macedonian and Albanian, and had been disseminated to various organizations and political parties. Many seminars had been organized in the area of human rights, drawing in civil servants and court personnel.
A further member said both obligatory and optional courses in human rights were part of the regular curricula for secondary education. As for the courts and international treaties, the latter prevailed in cases of conflict with national laws. Regarding the national Ombudsman, no special complaints on gender discrimination had been submitted to that office.
HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked how many women worked in the Ministry of the Interior. Had the national action plan for gender equality been evaluated or modified? Was there a second phase to the plan? Had non-governmental organizations become involved in the plan?
HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, commended the country for its municipal equality offices, asking whether the law on equal opportunities had mandated the creation of such offices. What was the role of the local self-government councils in the equal opportunity process, and who selected such committees? What were their tasks? Did they deal only with the equal opportunities for women working in the public sector?
MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, asked what procedures the Government had been following to ensure a gender perspective in determining refugee and asylum-seeking status. Could women refugees file application as individuals, and were they assessed separately, even if they arrived with their families? Were there any gender-specific procedures for women who had suffered from violence during past conflicts? Were trafficked women given special consideration when seeking asylum?
FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, said that even before the new law on equal opportunities, the Government should initiate a massive campaign on the issues of gender discrimination. It was also necessary to promote the office of the ombudsman and strengthen the national machinery with expanded mandates.
On the country's gender equality machinery, a member of the delegation said that a special unit would be established after the adoption of the equal opportunities law that would deal exclusively with gender issues. At the moment, all the Ministries had contact persons monitoring the introduction of the gender equality perspective and informing the Unit for gender equality on relevant plans and legislative acts. Some 18 gender equality committees had been established in the country, including 10 in local self-government units. Members of the committees came from various political parties and included people of both sexes. Steps were also being taken in the area of gender budgeting.
Following up on that issue, another delegate added that, despite the efforts to downsize many governmental structures, the number of employees in the gender equality unit had recently grown.
Another country representative said that any new law in the country was reviewed to determine if it was in harmony with European legislation. Its provisions in relation to major international instruments, including the Convention, were also reviewed.
A representative of the Ministry of the Interior said that the ombudsman -- the defender of the people -- was elected by the Parliament. There was good cooperation among the Ministry of the Interior, the non-governmental organizations and the office of the ombudsman.
On the police, she said that huge efforts were being made to reform the police. While so far, there had been no complaints about police misconduct, open discussions had been held about the abuse of police powers. A special unit on violence and trafficking in people had been established recently. A project on human rights and community policing had been initiated with assistance from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Efforts were being made to adequately inform the police on the notion of non-discrimination against women.
The law on asylum and temporary protection had been adopted, and complete procedures for the treatment of asylum seekers had been established in the country, another speaker said.
PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said that there was no official policy for introducing temporary special measures for the advancement of women in the country. In that connection, she urged the Government to take cognizance of the Committee's general recommendation on the matter. De facto, substantive equality was about equality of results, and just a purely legal instrument, such as the Constitution, was not sufficient.
Many questions had been raised about the Roma women in Macedonia, she added. Would the Government consider adopting special forms of temporary measures for the promotion of their rights?
Ms. KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, also emphasized the need for special temporary measures for women who were disadvantaged in many areas. According to some sources of information, up to 60 per cent of Roma women had experienced some forms of discrimination, and measures were needed to address that situation, apart from education and efforts in the area of employment. The national plan for gender equality seemed to be the only policy directive for the promotion of women in the country, and she wanted to know what progress had been achieved since the document had been introduced in 1999. Did it have a time frame for implementation and a specific budget?
Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked whether the new equal opportunities law contained provisions that allowed or mandated for temporary special measures, when the Government recognized its obligation to accelerate gender equality.
A member of the delegation said the country was taking steps to include Roma children in the country's educational process, increase housing available to the Roma people, and increase their access to employment through a special measure that had been introduced. As for Albanian women, two new universities had been established in an area predominantly populated by Albanians.
Another speaker said progress had been made to increase the participation of Roma women in political life and decision-making bodies. As for special and temporary measures, she said they were adopted to promote equality in the country. Regarding the national plan on gender equality, she said there was no time frame or budget allocation for it.
Continuing, she said the law on equal opportunities foresaw the legislative adoption of special measures to be implemented through periodic plans. Regarding the participation of women in the Ministry of the Interior, the country encouraged all women wanting to work in the police to apply through published competitions.
A member of the delegation said that, in 2004, Macedonia had prepared a strategy for the Roma people, which included education, health, employment and housing, as well as discrimination and gender issues. When preparing the action plans for the decade, the issues related to those priority issues were to be taken into account. Measures were being taken to improve the situation of the Roma women.
SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, commended the Government on its research on violence against women. The introduction of domestic violence legislation and amendments to the Family Law were good examples of the appropriate handling of the issue. Improper presentation of women in the media hindered the achievement of gender equality, and it was commendable that the Broadcasting Council paid particular attention to that matter. Did the country have similar strategies to deal with discrimination in the school curricula?
MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, had some concerns as far as stereotyping was concerned. She would appreciate more information on the use of the media not only to stop stereotyping, but also to provide positive images and promote the values of equality. She also wondered about the family roles of men and women in the country, and the ties of those roles with ethnic origin.
KRISZTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, said that, according to the report, "women normally engage in prostitution individually, but almost all of them have 'pimps' who, under the cover of lovers or protectors, act mercilessly and take greater part of earnings". She would like to know what the Government was doing to stop such sexual exploitation of women. Were pimps or clients of prostitutes prosecuted? How many convictions had there been of traffickers in people? What programmes were in place for women who wanted to get out of prostitution and attack the demand side of prostitution and trafficking? Was prostitution considered to be a crime?
A representative of the Ministry of Education said that the content of textbooks was a very important issue for her Government. An assessment of school books and literature had been undertaken, which addressed such aspects as appropriateness to the age groups. Handbooks for teachers and parents were available to provide guidance.
Regarding the role of the media, a member of the delegation said that, like many other countries, the country was facing the problem of inadequate representation of women in the media. For that reason, many seminars for journalists and editors had been undertaken. Important progress had been achieved in sensitizing the members of the press on gender equality issues.
On prostitution, a delegate said that Macedonia was a post-conflict country, where prostitution and trafficking in women were a serious problem. In the past three years, the police had neutralized almost all centres of prostitution, and now efforts were being made to address the practice of prostitution out of apartments in urban areas. The police enforced maximum penalties for pimping and white slavery. Following a "spectacular trial", a prominent pimp had recently been sentenced to five years' imprisonment.
Another member of the delegation said that the country had signed the United Nations Convention on Transnational Crime. A strategy and an action plan on trafficking and illegal migration had been elaborated for 2006-2008. The Organized Crime Unit had been successful in its efforts to terminate several important channels of trafficking in human beings. The country was also cooperating with other countries at the regional level. She also provided some statistics on trafficking and illegal migration, saying that there had been 75 such cases in 2005, compared with 73 in 2004, with 168 perpetrators apprehended in 2005.
Another member of the delegation said that the demand side of prostitution was not criminalized in Macedonia. Providing services of prostitution was treated as a misdemeanour.
ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, commended the Government for the progress achieved, but noted the lack of information on minority participation in Government and sex-disaggregated statistics in the report. She also noted what had been done to publicize gender equality goals in the media, create good social environment for the advancement of women in the country. Had the Government taken measures to resolve the problem of women's low representation at the decision-making level?
DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, said that, according to the report, the participation of women in politics was a complex social phenomenon, which was influenced not only by socio-economic parameters, but also by the traditional values and gender roles. Obviously, those factors played a key role. For that reason, the Government was introducing legal changes to improve the level of representation and introduce quotas. She asked what other measures the Government was taking to address traditional values and rules that influenced women's participation in politics. She also urged the Government to take additional measures to ensure minority women's participation in politics.
FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, commended the new laws on quotas, but said that when looking at the results, one could see that those quotas had not achieved the desired results, with only 18 per cent of women among the Members of Parliament, for example. Therefore, it was necessary to go further in the legislation, raising the quotas for nominees above 30 per cent. Women also needed to be aware that they could become candidates.
Ms. POPESCU, expert from Romania, said that there had been progress between the elections of 2002 and 2005. The progress was very encouraging and the country was on the right track. She hoped that the use of the 30 per cent quotas would further improve the results of future elections. However, the level of the quotas at 30 per cent was not sufficient. It was also important to strengthen tie with grass-roots organizations to empower women and raise awareness of their voting rights and the right to run as candidates. The use of female role models and success stories could be beneficial.
Also on political representation, Ms. ŠIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, welcomed the fact that the country had managed to reverse the negative trends. While the imposition of quotas at 30 per cent represented a special temporary measure, she wanted to know if sanctions were envisioned under the law for those who violated the law. Were there any provisions to enhance women's participation in the diplomatic field?
Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, commended the Government for its efforts to introduce new laws on elections, but also echoed others' concern that the desired result had not been attained. Had there been an assessment to identify weaknesses in the implementation of the law? It also appeared that the position of women on the list of candidates was quite weak. What was being done to encourage women, including minority groups, to participate in the election process?
Regarding political representation, a delegation member noted that three of the country's 17 government ministers were women, two women served as deputy ministers, and more than half of the judges were women. Special programmes were in place to support and encourage women entrepreneurs, and the country's electoral list had a 30 per cent quota for women.
Another speaker said the quota for women had been introduced in 2002 for parliamentary elections, resulting in 17.5 per cent women parliamentarians that year. For the first time since 1990, an Albanian was elected to Parliament in 2002, and four Albanian women currently served as parliamentarians. In the most recent elections, a Roma woman had been elected as a Council member.
As for international affairs, 37 per cent of diplomats outside the country were women, although the numbers of women serving in senior diplomatic posts was low. The country was generally underrepresented in international organizations, but appeared to be gender balanced.
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said the country's report failed to highlight the plight of minority women, although civil society sources suggested they possessed the highest illiteracy and school dropout rates, as well as the lowest rate of school attendance. Minorities also experienced difficulty with the Macedonian language, and some children had been sent to schools for mentally disabled. In addition, unemployment was higher in some minority groups, especially among Roma women, she continued.
Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, asked if teaching and research on women and gender issues was being carried out in universities in the country.
A representative from the Ministry of Education said that the country's Constitution provided for compulsory and free primary education. Everybody had equal rights in the area of education, regardless of their age, health, financial situation, sex or other circumstances. Over 52 per cent of college students were female.
However, dropouts had been registered in some 80 per cent of the country's schools. Out of the dropouts at the primary education level, the largest number -- some 10 per cent -- were the Roma children, with Albanian and Macedonian children following. Macedonia was undertaking measures to address the situation. Compulsory education had recently been extended to nine years, and communities were increasingly providing free transportation for children who did not live close to schools. Efforts were also being made to improve the school infrastructure.
She also provided the 2003-2004 figures on the percentage of girls at different levels of education: 52 per cent of students at the higher education level were females; 48 per cent at primary level; and some 45.5 per cent in secondary schools.
Another delegate noted that education was among the key measures used to improve the situation of the Roma people. A special Roma educational fund served to reduce the gap in the area of education. It was more difficult for the Roma children to be integrated in the school system, because most of them spoke Roma at home. She hoped that introduction of a mandatory pre-school year, with education in Macedonian, would improve the situation. A large project was also being introduced that would devote some €1.2 million for secondary-school scholarships.
Another country representative spoke about ethnic Albanian pupils, who had a right to education in their mother tongue. While there were no specific gender-based measures in that respect, special measures had been introduced to promote education for ethnic students. About 55 per cent of students in the country's two predominantly Albanian universities were women.
Ms. AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, said that, in some of the replies, it had been indicated that the country's laws had been harmonized with those of the European Union. However, that did not mean total compliance with the Convention. She also said that one of the Committee's previous questions related to the families headed by women, but nothing had been said in the reply about the measures to improve their situation. She also wanted to know more about the measures taken by the Government with support from non-governmental organizations.
Ms. ZOU, expert from China, said that many measures had been taken to encourage and support women's entrepreneurship and she wanted to know about measures to provide equal rights for women with regard to credit. Was the provision for paid maternity leave applied to the private sector, as well as the public institutions?
Regarding maternity rights, a delegate said that women could appeal to relevant courts if those rights were violated. As for rural women, efforts had been made to identify their problems and inform women of their rights and legal recourse.
Another speaker commented on a move to equalize the country's pension age, which varied for men and women, but several factors had made that impossible at the present time. Moreover, the country was attempting to harmonize its legislation with that of the European Union.
Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, asked for information on women-centred services addressing general diseases among women. Had the Ministry of Health developed sufficient competence to address women's health problems? How accessible were services for gynaecological problems, and how were they monitored?
Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked whether a strategy for elderly women's health or disabled women was being considered.
Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, noted that abortion was a painful physical and psychological phenomenon, questioning whether any research had been done to determine why it was occurring in such high numbers in the country.
Addressing health, a delegation member said there was no special programme for health in elderly women, but one existed to decrease the number of women suffering from non-communicable diseases. In addition, a programme for the prevention of cervical cancer covered pap tests for women who were ineligible for health insurance.
As for abortion, she acknowledged that it was high compared to other European countries, but had decreased by about 20 per cent since 1994. Family planning services were available within women's clinics, but no research had been carried out nationwide on the phenomenon.
The whole population was covered by health insurance plans, another member of the delegation added. Asylum seekers could seek treatment at the country's hospitals.
As the Committee turned to the situation of rural women, ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, wondered about the obstacles faced by rural girls in the area of education and the measures to reduce dropout rates in rural areas. Her other questions related to the efforts to improve rural women's information on reproduction health programmes.
GLENDA P. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, said that while it was interesting to see the developments described today, it seemed that most of the benefits went to urban women of the upper and middle class. The report also referred to the results of some recent research -- cited in the report -- which found that the authority of fathers in the family had been undermined. She hoped that it was a translation mistake and not the position of the Government, because she did not think that fathers possessed "some God-given authority" in the first place.
Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, said that the Convention devoted a separate article to the situation of rural women, because in many countries they required special attention. She wanted to know about rural women's access to health care and encouraged the State party to provide a full report on the situation of rural women in its next report.
A country representative said that the first measure to address the dropout rate in rural areas, like elsewhere, had been to introduce obligatory nine-year education. Efforts were also being made to make schools more attractive to both teachers and pupils. The Ministry of Education had developed a draft national strategy on education for the period ending in 2015, which ensured equal participation of the rural population in the educational system. She expected the dropout rates in the country to decline as a result of the Government's efforts.
On rural women's access to health care, a speaker said that there were rural health-care centres all over the country. Those centres were well-staffed and equipped.
Education and information campaigns had been initiated to improve the lives of women in their communities, a member of the delegation said. Rural women were increasingly educated about their rights.
Ms. GNACADJA, expert from Benin, asked about the custody of children, support for children and wives in the case of divorce, and measures to ensure payment by negligent fathers. Why did the report say that it was necessary to modernize the custody legislation? Did rural women have access to courts and legal proceedings?
Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, asked about the rights of spouses concerning property and insisted that women needed to understand their legal rights before they could lay their claim to property. Also, sexual intercourse of an adult with a minor under 16 did not seem to be forbidden and punishable by law. Why was it not considered a crime?
A member of the delegation said that decisions on child support upon divorce were made by courts and entered into force immediately. The obstacles included fathers' unemployment and lack of funds to pay child support or alimony. Decisions on child custody were made on the recommendations of multidisciplinary committees, which evaluated the situation.
The father was still considered the head of the family, largely due to persistent stereotypes throughout the country, she continued, but efforts were made to overcome such trends. Young families were increasingly making decisions jointly and participating in the household chores and tasks on an equal basis.
On legal assistance, she said that there were associations of lawyers in the country, who provided free legal advice to women. As for sexual intercourse of minor females with adults, it was regulated by the criminal code, which criminalized such offences.
Another delegate added that sexual acts with minors were criminalized under the country's law and punished by imprisonment. Minors enjoyed special protection, but no distinction was made on the basis of gender. The laws also provided penalties for incest, showing pornography to children and rape of minors.
Another member of the delegation said that his family's property was in the name of him and his wife.
MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said the Committee's constructive exchange had brought attention to the considerable progress the country had made in such a short period of time. It had ratified the Convention and its Protocol in record time, which would benefit all women. She encouraged the country to continue its work and base its next report on the Committee's conclusions. She hoped the upcoming elections would result in a 50/50 ratio of candidates.
Mr. JAKIMOVSKI agreed that his country had made serious steps forward, especially regarding women's rights. The process for achieving gender equality must be developed further, and there was no resistance to that among State officials. Instead, they offered only encouragement to resolve problems of gender equality in various sectors.
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