17 May 2006
Bosnia and Herzegovina Making Progress towards Gender Equality, Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee Told, as It Concludes Review of Report
But Country Representative Recognizes Need for Much more to Be Done to Achieve Gender Parity
NEW YORK, 16 May (UN Headquarters) -- Despite limited financial resources and coordination among government offices, Bosnia and Herzegovina was making progress in harmonizing laws and action plans to end discrimination against women, achieve gender equality in education, health care and employment, and implement the various articles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Samra Filipovic-Hadziabdic, the Director of Bosnia and Herzegovina's Agency for Gender Equality, said today, as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women concluded its consideration.
In the post-war period, Bosnia and Herzegovina was working to rebuild and expand government institutions, including mechanisms to address gender equality and women's rights. In addition to her Agency, the Government had established gender centres as expert bodies throughout the country, commissions for gender equality at the State and municipal levels, as well as cantonal coordination boards. Focal points in many government offices had received gender-sensitivity training, but more training and human and financial resources were needed to expand the country's official gender mainstreaming structure.
Bosnia and Herzegovina's Gender Equality Law provided definitions for direct and indirect discrimination, as well as gender-based violence and sexual harassment across all sectors, and listed sanctions for violators of the law, Ms. Filipovic-Hadziabdic said. It also mandated the creation of gender equality strategies and programmes in education, employment, access to resources, social protection, health care, sports and culture, public life, media and the prevention of violence.
The draft National Action Plan on Gender was based on the principles set forth in the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action. Moreover, an ambitious Gender Action Plan submitted to the country's Council of Ministers aimed to create greater balance between the sexes in capacity-building, development strategies, decision-making; employment, social inclusion; income and benefits, education, health care, protection against violence and trafficking, and information technology access, among other areas.
Bosnia and Herzegovina had also ratified the Convention's 2000 Optional Protocol, the Council of Europe's recommendations on gender equality, and the European Community Framework Strategy on Gender Equality.
Still, much more needed to be done to achieve gender parity in many aspects of daily life, Ms. Filipovic-Hadziabdic said. Courts were overloaded with discrimination cases; coordination was still poor among many government departments; and public-sector offices often lacked sufficient staff to ensure implementation of gender equity programmes.
Many of the Committee's 23 experts, which monitor States' compliance of the Convention's provisions, agreed with that assessment. Acting in their personal capacities, the experts raised several issues of concern. They called for more gender disaggregated data on Bosnia and Herzegovina; more details on the Gender Equality Law and other legislation in terms of education, employment and health care; as well as greater punishment for rapists, traffickers of women and girls, and perpetrators of domestic violence, among other issues.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 17 May, to consider Turkmenistan's country report.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had before it Bosnia and Herzegovina's combined initial, second and third periodic reports (document CEDAW/C/BIH/1-3). According to the report, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women entered into force in Bosnia and Herzegovina on 1 October 1993. The country's overall legislative framework prevents discrimination based on gender, and the Law on Gender Equality in Bosnia and Herzegovina further strengthens that framework. Courts face huge case overloads, limiting their ability to apply laws against discrimination, but judicial system reform had begun to change that. The country lacks separate courts to address employment disputes, and many experts believe that, in light of the weakening economic situation, it would be risky to instigate court disputes, which could exacerbate the situation. Still, activities to better protect women are on the rise.
The population of uneducated women has perpetuated the existence of traditional roles for men and women, the report states. Despite increased literacy rates among girls, which reached 49 per cent in 2000 in Bosnia and Herzegovina and 50 per cent in the Republika Srpska, the traditional divisions between women's occupations and men's occupations are still visible. Recently, poverty had caused education levels to drop for both sexes. Regarding women's health, abortion is used widely as a method of family planning, causing the fertility rate to decline. Sex education remains inadequate as does gynaecological services and health promotion, particularly for adolescents. The report also notes an increase in sexually active adolescents, unwanted pregnancies and the spread of infectious diseases.
Family violence was directly linked to poverty, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had analysed many more cases of such violence that had been reported to government authorities, making the situation difficult to monitor, the report said. Thanks to greater public awareness of the problem, preventive measures were being implemented.
Women are increasingly involved in politics, and a greater number are voting in elections due largely to the creation of centres for gender equality. In addition, the report states that NGOs and women's associations are working to strengthen and encourage women's participation in the public and political spheres. Regarding statistical data on women, the country's official data is not gender-specific. However, efforts were under way to develop separate data on men and women.
The report outlines Bosnia and Herzegovina's progress in implementing articles 1 to 16 of the Convention covering defining discrimination against women; measures to eliminate such discrimination; promotion of gender equality; elimination of stereotypes and prejudices; the issue of trafficking in women and exploitation through prostitution; women in political and public life; women's participation in diplomacy and international organizations; citizenship; education; labour, pension and social protection; equal health care for men and women; other areas of economic and social life; rural women; equal rights; and marriage and family relations.
The report also includes a list of laws relating to women's issues; statistical data on eliminating stereotypes and prejudices and on education; and responses to a questionnaire on progress made and remaining challenges in gender equality, implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and outcomes of the General Assembly's twenty-third special session, institutional development of gender issues and national action to address major challenges.
Presentation of Reports
SAMRA FILIPOVIC-HADZIABDIC, Director of the Agency for the Gender Equality of Bosnia and Herzegovina, introduced the country's reports to the Committee. Years of war, exile and emigration had altered the country's population demographics as noted in the 1991 census. No official census had been taken since that year. Noting the importance of legislating gender mainstreaming, she said commissions for gender equality had been set up at the State and municipal levels. Within the executive authority, officials had also set up a gender equality agency, gender centres as expert bodies, focal points, and cantonal coordination boards. Focal points in many institutional mechanisms had received gender sensitivity training, but more training and human and financial resources were needed to expand the institutional gender mainstreaming structure.
At the international level, Bosnia and Herzegovina adhered to the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, Council of Europe recommendations and the European Community Framework Strategy on Gender Equality, she said. In September 2002, her country had ratified the Convention's 2000 Optional Protocol, which had entered into force in December 2002. At the national level, the country's Constitution and its two Entities, under article II.4, prohibited discrimination on any grounds. The Gender Equality Law defined direct and indirect discrimination, as well as gender-based violence and sexual harassment. It also introduced sanctions against offenders. The Gender Equality Law was applied to education, employment, access to resources, social protection, health care, sports and culture, public life, media and prohibition of violence, and required authorities to adopt gender equality programmes and strategies in all those areas.
She then outlined progress made in Bosnia and Herzegovina in gender equality in accordance with the Convention. In terms of articles 1, 2 and 3 concerning elimination of discrimination, the country had conducted gender impact assessments and harmonized laws at the entity and cantonal level in line with the Gender Equality Law. Last year, it had brought the entity laws concerning protection of domestic violence in line with the Gender Equality Law and had devised a draft National Action Plan on Gender based on the principles set forth in the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action. It had also submitted to the Council of Ministers a Gender Action Plan for implementation in 15 areas: European integration; cooperation and capacity-building; macroeconomic and development strategies; gender-sensitive budgets; power and decision-making; employment and labour market; social inclusion; income, benefits and unpaid work; whole-life education; health, prevention, and protection; violence and trafficking in human beings; the role of men; harmonization of professional and private life; sustainable environments; and information technology and science.
Regarding article 4 concerning promotion of gender equality, she said several working groups had issued a series of recommendations, including temporary measures, for institutions to implement the Gender Equality Law. The Federal Ministry of Development, Business and Entrepreneurship had allocated grants to start up or expand existing women-owned or women-operated businesses, marking the first time government resources had sponsored female entrepreneurship. The Ministries of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Supplies had implemented the Livestock and Rural Financed Development Project of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which devised affirmative measures and annual Gender Action Plans based on field surveys of specific roles for men and women in agricultural production.
Turning to article 5 concerning elimination of stereotypes and prejudices, she said that last year the country had adopted the Law on Protection against Family Violence, as well as a Gender Action Plan and National Action Plan for ending violence against women and trafficking of women. Officials had conducted an analysis of gender stereotypes in elementary school textbooks and in university curricula; had devised a journalist's manual on gender-sensitive reporting and a tally of gender representation in electronic media; and had encouraged cooperation between gender centres and the Ministries of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Supplies on the project of the Livestock and Rural Financed Development Project.
In terms of article 6 regarding trafficking in women and exploitation through prostitution of women, she said Bosnia and Herzegovina had adopted a Law on Movement, Residence and Asylum for Foreigners, as well as a State-level Action Plan for the Prevention of Trafficking in People; issued a Provisional Instruction for Treatment of Victims of Trafficking; signed the Protocol on Cooperation with NGOs; and had devised action plans to end violence against women and trafficking in human beings.
Regarding article 7 concerning political and public life, the Working Group for Public Life had recommended steps to increase the number of women in political and public life, particularly in political parties, and the Parliamentary Assembly had amended the Election Law to require that all electoral bodies provide gender-disaggregated statistical records.
Concerning article 10 on education, the Working Group on Education had made recommendations to achieve gender parity in grade school, and the Gender Equality Law had set up a post-graduate gender studies programme at the University of Sarajevo. The country had also conducted workshops with directors and pedagogues of 203 elementary and 125 secondary schools to integrate gender equality principles into the school system, had held a conference on gender mainstreaming in education with the Council of Europe, and had produced a series of publications on the subject.
In terms of article 11 regarding labour, pensions and social protection, she said the Working Group on Employment, Work and Access to Economic Resources had submitted recommendations to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and would include their response in the Gender Action Plan concerning employment and the labour market. The Federal Ministry of Development, Business and Entrepreneurship and the Ministries of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Supplies had allocated funds for improving women's socio-economic lot. In addition, the Gender Equality Agency supported engendering the country's Support to Disability Policy Development.
On article 12 concerning equality in the approach to health care, she said the Gender Action Plan was working to improve health conditions and protection for both sexes, and the Council of Ministers and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) had collaborated on the 2005-2008 Country Programme Action Plan. The Working Group for Health and Social Care had issued recommendations on implementing the Gender Equality Law.
In terms of article 14 on women in rural areas, she said officials, in addition to coordinating implementation of the Livestock and Rural Financed Development Project, had built into the Gender Action Plan ways to improve the lives of rural women.
Concerning vulnerable groups, she said officials had developed a strategy for legal literacy, but lacked the financing to implement it. In July 2005, the Council of Ministers had adopted the Strategy for Resolving Problems of the Roma Population, establishing institutional responsibilities and deadlines in education, employment, housing, health care, social protection and birth registration, among other areas. Officials had also set up an Advisory Board for Gender Equality of the Roma Population within the Gender Equality Agency.
Experts' Comments and Questions
Opening the dialogue with the delegation, HANNA BEATE SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked how the Government intended to review draft laws and amendments submitted by the working group to ensure that they conformed with gender equity laws, including election law, laws on domestic violence and laws protecting civilian war victims. She noted that 10 years had passed since the Convention was ratified, and asked what was being done to speed the process. Also, what role would the Ministry of Justice play?
She had also heard that internally displaced people and sexual victims of war were threatened with the loss of housing by the end of this month due to conflicting regulations. How did the Government intend to resolve that issue?
DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked about the Convention's legal position within the national legal framework, and sought to know why the Convention had not been invoked in local courts so far.
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, wondered if there was lack of awareness of the Convention, or if the issue of gender equality was being overshadowed by questions of human rights and ethnic equality in Bosnia and Herzegovina. On the Optional Protocol to the Convention, was effort being made to train people on its substance, for instance, at the level of the Ombudsman?
On the question of awareness, Ms. FILIPOVIC-HADZIABDIC replied that her organization had taken pains to emphasize that the obligation towards gender equality rested on all governmental bodies. She admitted, however, that while criminal law had been given great emphasis, equality laws were not felt to be as important. A large number of laws were currently being processed, and the Gender Equality Agency's recommendations relating to gender-related laws were only considered 30 per cent of the time.
Regarding displaced persons and sexual victims, she acknowledged the fact that they currently had no legal protection. So far, the Gender Equality Agency and Ministry of Human Rights had submitted letters to pressure cantonal authorities into resolving the issue, under whose jurisdiction the question fell. The Ministry was also writing new State law to cover victims of torture, following guidelines given by the Convention against Torture.
The Convention was currently listed in the annexes of the Constitution, and the Gender Equality Agency planned to push for further action after receiving recommendations from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Meanwhile, training was being provided for judges and prosecutors on the Convention, although she admitted that "judges still do not know how to apply it". She said she felt it was true that the question of ethnic equity was considered more important than gender equality, as shown by media coverage of the two topics.
Regarding the role of the Ombudsman, she said the body did not often recognize discrimination as a problem in its own right, often labelling such instances as examples of corruption (for instance, with regard to labour disputes). Its members had been invited for training on gender-sensitization, but had not agreed to participate so far.
MARY SHANTI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, asked whether it was understood that "gender equality" and "gender equity" were mutually exclusive, since she had noticed those two terms used interchangeably by the delegates. She also asked whether the Agency had set any guidelines to ensure that the various gender mechanisms already in place were pursuing a standardized approach. If so, was there any assistance provided by outside consultants or NGOs, since the Agency seemed short of staff? Finally, why were government institutions not pushed to collect more gender disaggregated data?
FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, noted that 2,000 people had been mobilized to draft the report. Was the message being heard at the ministerial level and by those who bore political responsibility?
SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, noted that the report gave much emphasis to poverty. Was that issue overshadowing questions of gender?
On the question of "equality" versus "equity", Ms. FILIPOVIC-HADZIABDIC said that those issues were indeed seen to be mutually exclusive and that the distinction was explained on their website.
On the consistency of implementation of the Gender Action Plan, she said that gender centres at the entity level worked closely with State gender mechanisms to strategize on the National Plan of Action. Draft policies were sent to all ministries to obtain input, and focal point persons in the individual ministries were useful for that purpose. Representatives of legislative commissions were also invited to take part, as were officers at the cantonal levels, NGOs and independent experts. On the Agency's staff and possible expansion, she said the Agency had build good connections with Parliament, the National Assembly and the House of People at the federal level, which she hoped would augur well for further expansion.
On statistics, she said institutions that did not obey the requirement would be fined, and awareness-raising on that issue was also being conducted. Other procedures were being developed under the Gender Action Plan on how to further enforce that rule.
Many people had been mobilized to produce the Convention's report, she said, contributing to overall awareness of the issue. Also, training was given to judges and prosecutors and education officials.
She said the post-war labour market was not well developed. A mid-term development strategy was being created to improve it and to integrate the gender perspective in economic policy, involving a working group of gender-sensitized economists and NGOs. A similar process was being undertaken to improve national election laws.
Experts' Questions and Comments
Turning to article 3 of the Convention, Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked about the nature of the obstacles being faced by the Gender Equality Agency. Was obstruction coming from the ministries or Parliament? Where were the gender mechanisms positioned and at what level? What were the mandates of those mechanisms, and were they binding? Did those gender mechanisms have immediate access to the Council of Ministers? Was there a formalized process of consultation with NGOs?
ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, said the Gender Equality Agency was described in the country report as a State agency. Was the Government planning to strengthen this Agency? Would it be independent from the Ministry of Human Rights? The Beijing Platform of Action called upon all Governments to establish and strengthen all entities concerning the status of women. Would the Government provide support to ensure that this strengthening took place? What penalties were there for violations? How many women did her Agency have? Only three had been seen here.
VICTORIA POPESCU SANDRU, expert from Romania, asked how her office managed in cooperation with State, entity and municipal structures to ensure that women in various administrative units enjoyed equal rights, whether they were Bosnian, Serb, Croat, or from other ethnic group. Requesting more information about the function of the Coordination Board, she asked if there was NGO representation on the Board. Was there systematic cooperation with NGOs, including on projects and their financing? What was her responsibility regarding dissemination of information on the Women's Anti-Discrimination Convention? Had the Convention been translated into the country's three official languages? What was her responsibility regarding monitoring and supervision of the law?
FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, asked about the status of the National Gender Action Plan. She said the report was very confusing and asked for clarification of the plans at different levels.
Regarding Ms. Schöpp-Schilling's question, MS. FILIPOVIC-HADZIABDIC said the Gender Equality Agency was part of the Ministry of Human Rights. The Gender Equality Agency at the State level had direct access to the Minister of Human Rights. But the Minister of Human Rights, Refugees and Displaced Persons had many other responsibilities. Stressing that she agreed with Ms. Schöpp-Schilling's concern about the Agency's status, she said it would be better for the Gender Equality Agency to be part of the Council of Ministers and have direct access to all other ministers.
In terms of consultations with NGOs, she said the gender centres had been set up at the entity level to help implement the Gender Equality Law. Supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Bosnia and Herzegovina had set up a coordination body of 20 NGOs. The gender centres and NGO representatives worked with the Working Group of experts to draft the Law on Protection against Family Violence. However, there were discrepancies over whether to define domestic violence as a criminal act. In the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, domestic violence was considered a criminal act, but that was not the case in Republika Srpska. It was necessary to harmonize the definition.
Concerning focal points, she said there were different levels of people nominated to become focal points in the ministries, some of whom were assistant ministers. She said secretaries of the ministers became involved in gender equality work in order to encourage to ministers to work together.
Regarding Ms. Xiaoqiao's comments and questions, she said the Gender Equality Agency indeed had to be strengthened in terms of financial and human resources. Budgeting remained a problem as did higher taxes, so much so that employees during one period were not paid. The Gender Equality Agency and the gender centre had representatives in the Republica Srpska. She said she hoped that, during the next session of the Committee, more country representatives, independent experts and ministry focal points would be present.
Responding to Ms. Popescu Sandru's questions on cooperation and coordination among the country's various gender equality bodies, she said they each had different structures and that coordination among them was not easy. Setting up gender centres, training and sensitizing their staff and developing action plans took time. It was unfortunate that many of those bodies were not operational, and she expressed hope that legal gender-sensitive strategies would be better developed by the authorities. Along with the UNDP, her office was sponsoring gender training for civil servants.
In terms of the Coordination Board and its cooperation with NGOs, she said the Board had been established as an agency on the State level. It had two advisory members from the NGO sector. Along with the UNDP, last year and this year it had organized financing of NGO projects intended to implement the Gender Equality Law at the local level. Non-governmental organizations, in turn, needed to voice their concerns and needs to the Board and needed to be aware of the situation at the local level.
In terms of disseminating information on the Convention, she said all official correspondence made reference to the articles of the Convention, including correspondence to make the gender centres independent. Information on the Convention was also disseminated through government publications during round-table conferences.
In terms of monitoring implementation of the Gender Equality Law and responsibility sharing among the ministries, the Agency and the Humanitarian Commission, she said the Gender Equality Law was not completely transparent and that it was necessary to simplify procedures. It had taken time to determine gaps in the law through the working group's input and public hearings, how to improve procedures and how to implement the law. That process was still under way. The appointment of new director was a positive step, but it would take more time and more civil servant staff to complete the process.
Regarding helping victims of sexual harassment, she said that was not primarily her institutional responsibility, but she said sexual harassment was indeed a gender issue and an issue of importance to NGOs. Sexual harassment was addressed by the Ministry of Human Rights and at the entity and canton level by the Ministry of Social Affairs.
Responding to Ms. Saiga's inquiry on the National Gender Action Plan, she said the Plan was based on the Beijing Declaration and Plan of Action and had been sent to all ministers for their review and action. It would also be submitted to the Council of Europe. There was concern that gender issues not be seen only as women's problems. Rather, the focus was to ensure that they be integrated into national development strategies as a whole and that, as a result, gender strategies be strengthened both horizontally and vertically. The Agency also planned to send the National Gender Action Plan to the Parliamentary Commission. Doing so would strengthen the plan's legal influence.
Experts' Questions and Comments
GLENDA SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, acknowledged the difficulties faced by Bosnia and Herzegovina during the current transitional period and the importance of resolving issues of ethnic conflict. However, she said that gender equality should not be made secondary to ethnic equality. Indeed, the Government was obliged to institute temporary measures to aid women so that women within all ethnic groups were able to rise as high as the men.
Ms. FILIPOVIC-HADZIABDIC expressed agreement and hoped her Government would transmit that sentiment in its policies.
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked what means -- whether education, media or sensitization of public opinion -- were used by the Government to reduce sex role stereotyping and prejudices.
HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked about family violence laws. Which Ministry was charged with developing those laws, and was there a time line? Were NGOs playing a role? How were judges and prosecutors being trained on the issue? She encouraged the delegates to study the Secretary-General's upcoming report on violence against women to obtain ideas for further action.
DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, noted that the issue of domestic violence seemed to be viewed differently by the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina entity and the Republic of Srpska entity, in that the latter treated domestic violence as merely a minor offence. She asked what steps were being taking to harmonize laws to ensure effective implementation at all levels. Also, what steps were being taken to deal with the overloaded courts, prevalence of unsolved cases, low numbers of staff on the police force dealing with the issue, and the lack of financial resources for social welfare organizations?
Regarding inter-agency work conducted by the education sector and the mass media on the use of non-sexist language, MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, asked whether there were different interventions for various ethnic groups, since one group might exhibit sex role stereotyping that was different from others.
On domestic violence laws, Ms. FILIPOVIC-HADZIABDIC replied that the Ministries of Social Affairs, Justice, Internal Affairs and Health were working together to develop by-laws relating to domestic violence laws and best practices. Meanwhile, issues of trafficking of human beings and violence were being addressed within the Gender Action Plan, where plans for training of police, judges, prosecutors, health-care officials and teachers were being written.
On the harmonization of laws, she said that domestic violence was considered a criminal act in both entities and that the difference in how they were treated was purely administrative. For example, under the Republic of Srpska legal system, cases would be dealt with more quickly if they were categorized as "misdemeanours". Efforts were also being made to collect more data about sexual violence.
Regarding stereotyping through the eyes of different ethnic groups, she believed there were the same patterns across groups. Nevertheless, input was sought from representatives of different religions when overhauling education material. Also, shared responsibility among family members was emphasized in the Gender Action Plan where the role of men was also addressed.
Experts' Questions and Comments
Regarding article 6 of the Convention, Ms. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, said that, while Ms. Filipovic-Hadziabdic had said that she was not responsible for addressing rape and other discriminatory issues, women were being raped because of their gender. Why was the number of people charged for trafficking so small? What was being done about brothel owners and operators? She said the book should be thrown at men in Bosnia and Herzegovina for their involvement in this, in order to curb demand. She asked for more input on that situation.
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said the country report said that two incidents in 2003 had been submitted for further application regarding trafficking of women. What was the present status of that? When would the final instruction begin? Which NGO was involved in the Protocol of Gender Equality? What other examples existed of private-public partnerships in gender equality? What was she doing to counter the new phenomenon of trafficking women for marriage?
Responding to Ms. Simms' question, Ms. FILIPOVIC-HADZIABDIC said the Human Rights Ministry had the primary responsibility of dealing with victims of rape, but that such women victims were indeed the responsibility of all. Recommendations had been made to the Committee against Torture, which, at the entity level, had cooperated with rape victims and had worked with NGOs to improve rights for rape victims.
In terms of trafficking of women, she said some politicians and high-ranking officials had been involved in trafficking. However, the situation was improving, thanks to the role of the State Coordinator and a multidisciplinary approach to tackle the problem. Children, particularly from poor families, and mentally ill people were beginning to be trafficked. Greater efforts and coordination between the State Coordinator and the ministries were needed to tackle those problems.
Experts' Comments and Questions
Ms. XIAOQIAO, expert from China, noted that Bosnia and Herzegovina's Gender Equality Law required that female representation in Government should not be less than one third. However, she noted that few women occupied high posts in Government and on the councils of reform of the police and the Constitution. How did the Government plan to correct this imbalance? Were there plans to further promote the importance of quotas, in particular, within defence and foreign affairs ministries? She noted that minorities were not allowed to take part in the highest level of Government, in violation of the Convention. Did the Agency plan to address this issue?
Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, said that, in 1988, a newly designed electoral law had resulted in 30 per cent of Parliament members being female. Once the law changed from one of closed listing of candidates (where electors would vote for a party slate) to an open listing of candidates (where electors would vote for a named candidate), there had been a dramatic decrease of female representatives at the State level. How did the Office of High Representative respond to this decrease?
Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, said the scarcity of women in decision-making posts could be credited to the persistence of sex role stereotypes. The country report itself said that "women did not vote for other women". Had any campaigns been undertaken to fight stereotypes? How did the Agency plan to encourage parties to put forward more women candidates?
Ms. POPESCU SANDRU, expert from Romania, said that political parties were the main vehicle for encouraging the political empowerment of women. What recommendations did the working group on gender equality put forward to address the need for more women in political posts?
Ms. FILIPOVIC-HADZIABDIC said she was pleased to report that the number of women in the legislative body of Government had increased recently. The Agency was also encouraging female politicians of all levels to network with each other. Not only was the Agency encouraging political parties to put more women on the candidates list, but it was also pushing for better promotion of female candidates in the media during election periods.
On the role of the Office of High Representative in implementing gender equality issues, she said that the Agency had received little help from there. The Agency also no longer had access to the High Representative because the post of senior adviser on gender equality had been closed down.
However, a procedure was being developed to deal with complaints of discrimination in political life within the Gender Action Plan. In terms of minority candidates, a committee on minority issues had been recently established by the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Experts' Questions and Comments
Turning to article 10, Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, noted a striking imbalance in the country report between education for boys and girls, which, if not addressed, could have a profound impact on the future professional life of girls and women. The statement did not elaborate on that. The statement said gender-sensitive curricula would lead to gender balance in schools. However, why is the situation of gender balance so different from other countries in the region? She said it was too static an attitude to say that changing the curricula would lead to gender balance. A more proactive approach was necessary so that women and girls would go into non-traditional professions. The report did not discuss girls' education of the 17 national minorities. Was the Parliamentary Commission going to take into consideration the gender dimensions of minority groups?
Ms. FILIPOVIC-HADZIABDIC agreed that a more proactive approach was needed to promote girls' education and women's employment in non-traditional professions. Within its joint projects with the UNDP, the Agency had provided grants to NGOs to institute girls' and women's education projects in line with the Gender Equality Law.
Concerning the Parliamentary Commission, she expressed hope that the Commission would soon be set up, and said she would fight for its establishment.
In terms of minority representation, she had called for gender balance within that area. Minority groups often wanted to be respected, but they did not respect the need for gender balance, she said. Bosnia and Herzegovina had set up an advisory board for the Roma population, and officials had tried to involve the groups in question to participate in decision-making. The Agency was focusing on mainstreaming gender education in schools and encouraging teachers to discuss stereotypes of female occupations with their students' parents. Teachers had, in fact, responded positively by discussing such concerns with parents.
She acknowledged that an imbalance indeed existed between boys' education and girls' education. Many parents were concerned about girls' security. In that regard, greater efforts were needed at the local government level.
Experts' Questions and Comments
Turning to article 13, Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, expressed concern over discrimination against women in the labour market in both the public and private sectors, the high rate of unemployment of educated women, and the lack of programmes to retrain such women, give them microcredit or support entrepreneurship. Why was the economic situation worse in the Republika Srpska than in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina? What were her recommendations to end poverty and how did they relate to recommendations in the Gender Equality Plan? What was her strategy apart from involving the World Bank to get the recommendations implemented? The Mid-term Development Strategy Plan was of major importance and must be successfully engendered to prevent a bleak future for women. She expressed concern that women worked in the grey economy and lacked access to insurance. She requested concrete input on those questions and comments.
SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, said that, in the responses to the list of issues and questions, the report discussed the termination of women from public and private sector jobs. How could government employees be terminated from their jobs on the basis of their sex? Were government jobs given on a contractual basis? Were there short-term workers? Were short-term employees given any unemployment benefits? Why specifically were highly educated women at a disadvantage? Was there a situation in which highly educated women were restricted from obtaining government jobs? Did an inspection office or other mechanism exist to monitor this? Had there been any complaints about that? And if so, what was the result of those complaints? Were resources allocated specifically for women in entrepreneurship development?
PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said that while she acknowledged that years of war had had disastrous consequences on all sectors in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country was missing the opportunity to address the entrenched discrimination of women. Earlier responses had made it clear that women had been excluded from the decision-making process, from political life. That was directly linked to strong gender-based discrimination and must be addressed together. While the country's labour laws embraced the philosophy of equality, the report had been fair and honest in stating that labour laws had not been adequately implemented and that they lacked structure. How was the Government responding to such concerns?
She requested disaggregated date on specific training programmes for women and on the difficulty women faced in finding employment. To what extent were women aware of their labour rights, and what efforts were being made to generate awareness? What was the extent of unionization in the labour force? Was the Government financially supporting childcare? Did she envision establishment of a network of childcare facilities? What measures were being taken to address occupational segregation?
Regarding Ms. Schöpp-Schilling's question on the Mid-term Development Strategy Plan, Ms. FILIPOVIC-HADZIABDIC said that macroeconomic experts and gender experts were involved in developing the strategy, which comprised 22 areas. Gender equality concerns were not addressed adequately in the plan. Her Agency had requested improvements from all 22 groups. She said she could provide the Committee with recommendations made in terms of gender budgeting, gender statistics in all 22 areas. The Agency had negotiated with the World Bank, and the Bank's country manager for Bosnia and Herzegovina had assured her Agency that it would work to get those recommendations implemented. The British Development Agency was also financially supporting implementation of the strategy. The Gender Action Plan was a document of great importance.
Concerning Ms. Khan's question on employment, she said vocational training for women and lifelong learning programmes were part of the Gender Action Plan. The Ministry of Entrepreneurship addressed concerns of women entrepreneurs. The report discussed that and referred to projects to support rural women.
Regarding women's employment in the public sector, she said government reform was under way. She expressed concern that women were the first to be dismissed from public-sector jobs. The country's civil service law applied to both men and women. There was no age requirement for men or women entering the civil service.
Concerning Ms. Patten's question on labour and employment, she said the Working Group on Labour and Employment had asked the International Labour Organization (ILO) for assistance. Together with the ILO, the Working Group had organized gender-sensitivity training of civil servants and workshops to generate awareness of international conventions concerning labour. When the report was written, the Agency did not have a good relationship with the Employment Office, and that Office did not respond to the Agency's questions. The situation had since improved.
An ombudsman was responsible for monitoring compliance with the labour, she said. However, the ombudsman did not address gender equality. He focused more on issues of corruption.
As to employment of highly educated women, she said that the country's data showed that unemployment was a greater problem among less educated women than among highly educated women. She said she could send the Committee the data collected by gender centres at the State level, as well as information from the Statistics Agency.
Regarding trade unions for women, she said there were some women leaders in trade unions. While those unions faced internal problems, the Agency had given them funding from its modest budget. The Agency routinely invited trade union representatives to provide their input on devising national action plans, Convention-related actions and other strategies.
In terms of childcare, that issue was covered in the report. Childcare services were very well organized before the war. At present, there were some State-funded childcare benefits, but they were not sufficient and paled in comparison to the benefits provided before the war.
Experts' Comments and Questions
Regarding victims of war, HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked what support was given to them in terms of rehabilitation. Indeed, were they formally recognized as victims of war, which, according to a list compiled by non-governmental groups, amounted to at least 3,000 people? Would a formal decree be passed to provide them with compensation and medical insurance, for example?
Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, noted that access to health services was limited to those who were legally employed. She asked how it impacted women's access to those services, since many of them were in the "grey economy".
She also asked if the Gender Equality Plan addressed problems of high mortality rates due to abortion and teenage pregnancy. Was there any intention to address the higher risk of young women in contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases? Also, how important was the issue of health in the Gender Equality Plan? Was "gender equality" incorporated into the national midterm strategy?
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, noted that abortion was considered a method of family planning up to the tenth week of pregnancy, often leading to high numbers of death in mothers. She asked if the service was provided for free by the State. Also, was any form of post-abortion service provided? What of pregnancy as a result of rape? Why was there no statistical data on those issues?
On the issue of abortion, Ms. FILIPOVIC-HADZIABDIC replied that efforts were indeed being made to collect data, but private clinics often failed to respond. As far as the Agency was concerned, abortion as a method of family planning was not recommended in its curriculum. As she understood it, abortion was allowed after tenth weeks only in certain circumstances -- such as in the case of rape or when pregnancy was hazardous to the mother's health -- and required State approval.
To educate the youth on the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, the Agency published pamphlets that it disseminated in schools. There was a lack of understanding among young people on those subjects, as demonstrated by street surveys. Further, young officers of NGOs were encouraged to spread such information to youth groups, since their closeness in age was thought to aid communication.
The health-care system in Bosnia and Herzegovina was complex, she said. For example, to access services that were not provided in one's own canton, approval must be sought in order to obtain them from a canton that did. That often posed problems for rural residents. However, health insurance coverage was extended beyond the employed to students and the unemployed who registered themselves with "employment centres".
Regarding sexual harassment, she said that some NGOs existed to provide support to victims. Those organizations, in conjunction with a parliamentary commission, also provided recommendations on a draft law regarding sexual harassment, currently being written by the Ministry of Social Affairs. It would contain a definition of civilian victims of war, and give them a right to legal aid and psychological counselling.
Experts' Comments and Questions
Moving to the subject of rural women, ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, noted that they were especially vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation. What was the State doing to educate those women and the country on ways to protect themselves? Were women educated on the rights of trafficked victims? What was the Government doing to combat corrupt law enforcers who supported trafficking? She also noted that 40 per cent of traffickers were women themselves.
Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, noted that 60 per cent of the population lived in rural areas, and were beset by problems such as poor housing conditions, unemployment, lack of access to health services and education. What steps had the Government taken to improve the lives of rural women? What of traditional norms that subordinated rural women -- were they being re-examined?
Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked if a national policy existed to address the needs of rural women. Were there any social security programmes directed specifically to rural women? Also, did the Government intend to include rural women in development planning? Was there a Ministry of Rural Development in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Was there a specific amount set aside in the national budget to deal with rural development?
Ms. FILIPOVIC-HADZIABDIC expressed a hope that, in its next report to the Committee, her country would have more to say regarding rural women. Currently, the country was just beginning to address that sector. For example, a pilot project had just been undertaken to train women from sub-rural areas to planning at the town-planning level, for example, in the removal of garbage or the provision of electricity. The project's purpose was to help empower such women.
On stereotypes held by rural people regarding women, the Agency had tried to create a programme of legal literacy, where each municipality had a small department of information disseminating laws relating to women's rights. Non-governmental organizations, too, held meetings on this subject with rural women. She emphasized that one of the tasks of the Cantonal Gender Commission was to improve the position of rural women.
Turning to the subject of trafficking, she said that poor women and girls in urban areas were thought to be more affected than their rural counterparts. But, nevertheless, the legal literacy programmes would take care of this in rural area.
Finally, the Ministry of Agriculture had set up a funding programme for rural female entrepreneurs. The Agency itself planned to develop female entrepreneurship programmes with the World Bank, as part of the midterm development strategy.
Experts' Comments and Questions
On the subject of marriage and family life, Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, noted that while sexual relations with a minor (under 14 years) was punishable by law, yet marriage with such a minor was possible. She wondered if such law merely legitimized what was rightfully an illegal union.
HUGETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, expert from Benin, concurred with Ms. Tan, saying that marriage with minors below 14 was a cover for men who wished to conduct sexual relations with them.
Finally, she noted that there was a broad definition of family, including parents, children and "other members of the family". On the occasion of a concubine's death, how was the question of succession dealt with? What provisions were provided to the surviving spouse? Also, women traditionally yielded their share of property to the males of the family -- what compelled them to make that choice? Also, there were currently three family laws -- one under the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Srpska and the District of Brcko. What are the distinctions between them?
Ms. FILIPOVIC-HADZIABDIC acknowledged the existence of the distinct three family laws, saying that the broad definition of "family" was prompted by the difficult economic situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The gender centre and Agency had organized meetings with NGOs to examine those laws and issue comments.
On registration of companies, the Agency had, indeed, received requests for help from several couples where, even if the man proved that they ran the business, the court saw the woman as responsible for the action. As a result, the Agency has taken to advising women of the liabilities associated with being a property owner.
On the subject of marriage, she said that, to her knowledge, marrying a person below 14 years was punishable by law.
Experts' Follow-up Comments and Questions
Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, thanked the delegation for their responses, noting their competence in responding to the Committee's queries.
Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, expressed concern that gender equality activities in Bosnia and Herzegovina were funded by international agencies or donors, saying that Government should be more involved. In its action plan, was the Agency attaching budget line items to make the cost of their activities more explicit? Was there a long-run plan to ensure that Government would provide funding in the future?
Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, asked if the Gender Equality Plan was integrated into the midterm strategy plan, thus, ensuring the mainstreaming gender issues.
Ms. FILIPOVIC-HADZIABDIC said mainstreaming of the issue was, indeed, being conducted through the midterm strategy plan. As for the budget, efforts were being made within the gender centre and Agency to develop a strategy on gender budgeting. In doing so, best practices from around the world were being used as guides. She said the last State-level budget did not include activities of the Gender Equality Agency.
As a final remark to the Committee, she promised to send an English translation of the Gender Action Plan to the Committee, and thanked the Committee for its input.
In wrapping up the discussion, the acting chair, Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, thanked the delegation for its frank responses.
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