18 May 2006
Concluding Consideration of Turkmenistan's Report, Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee Highlights Difficulties in Assessing Progress
More, Improved Statistical Information Needed from Country to Determine Level of Achievement of Gender Equality Goals
NEW YORK, 17 May (UN Headquarters) -- In Turkmenistan's first dialogue with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, expert members challenged the country's understanding of gender equality as presented in its report on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. They also expressed concern over the absence of disaggregated data in the report, which made it difficult to assess whether national gender equality goals were, indeed, being met in that country.
As the Committee concluded its review of the report by Turkmenistan, one expert told delegates that, although the equality of women and men was formally recognized under Turkmen law, that did not prevent women from experiencing indirect discrimination. In the Committee's own experience, laws that were neutral in formulation had been seen to have different effects on men and women -- the Convention was created to combat those very effects.
Representing her country at the meeting was the Permanent Representative of Turkmenistan, Aksoltan Ataeva. While the Committee experts welcomed her participation, several expressed regret that no "representatives from the capital" had chosen to be present.
When asked if women in Turkmenistan exercised their right to legal recourse when they had been discriminated against, she replied that women often preferred to settle such matters privately. Cases of crimes against women, such as in instances of domestic violence, were rarely seen in court. There were also no recorded cases of the Convention being invoked in court.
Turkmenistan had acceded to the Convention in 1996, but had not ratified the Convention's Optional Protocol, under which the Committee was given authority to receive and consider complaints from alleged victims of discrimination.
One expert expressed surprise that, in preparing the report on the implementation of the Convention in Turkmenistan, assistance was sought from the Commission on Human Rights and not the Division for the Advancement of Women.
In presenting her country's report to the Committee, Ms. Ataeva said the women of her country played an active role in its economic development, notably in the realm of education and health care. The number of small businesses run by women was also growing.
While no one had yet invoked the Convention in Turkmen courts, she assured the Committee that the Union of Women, a non-governmental organization with 1 million members, had a right to put questions to the Government should the need arise. In addition, an international women's conference had recently taken place in Turkmenistan, organized by the Union of Women, demonstrating the country's willingness to promote the advancement of women.
One member expert did note, however, that most pro-women policies in Turkmenistan focused on upholding the woman's role in the family, particularly as that of mother.
The Committee will meet again tomorrow, Thursday, 18 May, to take up the situation of women in Guatemala.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had before it Turkmenistan's combined initial and second periodic reports (document CEDAW/C/TKM/1-2), which discuss the country's progress in implementing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women that was ratified on 20 December 1996. According to the report, judicial protection of Turkmen citizens regardless of gender is guaranteed by the Constitution and bolstered by specific legislative measures governing the workplace, the portrayal of women in the mass media, and non-discrimination in the activities of State bodies and institutions.
The most influential women's organization is the Union of Women of Turkmenistan, which has approximately 1 million members. The Union promotes the role of women in social, political and cultural life, and its leaders are members of the People's Council (or Khalk Maslakhat, the 2,507-member executive branch of Government of which the popularly elected President of Turkmenistan is a member). The influence of women in trade union organizations is said to be "great", with 45 per cent of leading professional organizations being led by women. Meanwhile, the deputy chair of the Parliament (Majlis) is a woman; one parliamentary committee is led by a woman, and all committees have female members. Women account for more than one third of all those engaged in the administrative apparatus of the country, including that of Deputy Chair of the Cabinet of Ministers and of several ministries, and are deputy ministers, heads and deputy heads of local administrative bodies. In the 2003 session of the People's Council, approximately 30 per cent of the members were women.
The report says that, in the workplace, a system of tax incentives was established to encourage the presence of women in the workforce. Under the system, working women with three or more children pay 30 per cent less in income tax, while mothers with five children or more pay no income tax. An indirect increase in workers' income is provided by the State through a tax system favouring small businesses where female employees are predominant. Further, labour laws prohibit the refusal of employment, the firing of women or the reduction of their wages because of pregnancy, and in the case of single mothers, for reasons relating to their children up to 14 years. There is also paid leave for pregnancy and childbirth.
In terms of eliminating prejudices and abolishing discriminatory models of behaviour, seminars and conferences are being conducted on the rights of women and international standards in this area, including on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The report adds that international acts on the rights of women have been published in the State language and are being disseminated through television, radio and the press.
The report says that the State does not collect statistics on gender discrimination outright; however, analyses are conducted by the Turkmen National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights on the filing of claims on labour issues. Data is similarly collected on marriage and family conflicts. The report also discusses women's right of movement, free agreement in marriage and equal rights as parents.
Presentation of Reports
Introducing her country's report to the Committee, AKSOLTAN ATAEVA ( Turkmenistan) said women were guaranteed full political, economic, social and cultural rights and freedoms under domestic law and by Turkmenistan's international obligations. Indeed, women played an active role in implementing the country's National Development Programme for the period up to the year 2020. They comprised 42 per cent of all employees of government bodies at all levels, where they held the posts of Minister of Culture, Minister of Television and Radio-Broadcasting, and Minister of Social Security. Women were also deputy ministers, and held positions as heads and deputies of local government bodies (hkyakims) and local and administrative and territorial authorities. They also accounted for a greater share of employees in financial management, education, public health and social security. Just like the men of Turkmenistan, women represented their country in international forums and held responsible posts in diplomatic service.
She said that, at a time of radical economic transformation, the changing Constitution, legislative system and fast-growing national economy provided women with opportunities to work in any sphere. According to data from the National Institute of State Statistics and Information of Turkmenistan, 85 per cent of all women between the ages of 16 and 56 stood participated in the workforce. Women also accounted for more than 50 per cent of all doctors, 62.7 per cent of high school teachers, 57.7 per cent of members of secondary level vocational training schools, and 33 per cent of teachers in higher education establishments. They also accounted for over 50 per cent of financial workers, 49 per cent of communal service workers, 47 per cent of trade sector workers, 43 per cent of industrial workers, 23 per cent of transport sector workers, and 42 per cent of government employees. Some 62 per cent of entrepreneurs were women, occupied mostly in small scale and retail businesses, and 10 per cent of those women ran their own business.
She also said that Turkmen women and men had equal access to agricultural loans and credits, and the Law of Turkmenistan on Commercial Banks and Bank Activity of October 1993, access to loans did not depend on the sex of the borrower.
Due to annual increases in salaries in the State sector such as in public health and culture and arts -- where mostly women were employed -- the average level of salaries had surpassed that of other State sectors where the share of men was high, she added. The country's gender-based development index stood at 0.716, which she believed testified that there were minimal differences among men and women in the sphere of human development.
Turning to the Code of Marriage and Family, she said the concept of motherhood in Turkmenistan was "surrounded by universal honour and respect". A comprehensive system of motherhood and childhood provided mandatory care of women during pregnancy, childbirth and the post-natal period, as well as care for children during the first five years. Services at the regional level (velayats) also existed to reduce the incidence of mortality among mothers and infants and to help families regulate intervals between childbirths. Awareness activities to provide nutrition, breastfeeding and a healthy way of life were also provided.
Finally, Turkmenistan's legislation established equal rights to marriage for men and women, where provisions prohibit any direct or indirect restrictions of those rights. Similarly, the rights and obligations of both parents were enshrined in the country's laws, including equal responsibilities in the case of divorce.
She said the work of the prosecutor's office, trade unions and the Union of Turkmen Women, and independent public association served as a guarantee countering discrimination against women by State authorities.
Experts' Questions and Comments
On articles 1 and 2 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said the report did not give precise statistical data nor did it focus on some pertinent issues such as violence against women and sexual abuse. The Turkmenistan Ambassador's statement made general references to human rights instruments, but the constitutionality of the Convention was not clear. There was no reference to international human rights instruments. Could the Convention be invoked in Turkmenistan's courts? Were there any court cases in which the Convention had been cited? Was the Government considering ratifying the Optional Protocol to further strengthen women's human rights?
He requested more information about efforts to generate public awareness about the relevance of the Convention. Had the police been informed about it? He also requested more information on the role of women's organizations, human rights organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) regarding women's rights, including the rights of minority women.
DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, said she wished that a high-level government official on women's rights issues from Turkmenistan would have been present at the current session. Was the Convention as a legally binding human rights instrument directly applicable? Was it self-executing or did it have to be translated into national law? What specific provisions were there for equal rights for women and men in all sectors, not just in marriage? Was there a definition of discrimination against women in line with article 1 of the Convention in Turkmenistan's Constitution or any other relevant law?
MARY SHANTI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, said that timely reporting to the Committee was obligatory under the human rights treaty, because it enabled the timely monitoring of progress made in eliminating discrimination against women. That was in line with the international norms and standards of the treaty that Turkmenistan had voluntarily ratified. Had the Government assessed the reasons for delay in reporting? Was it a problem of understanding the scope of rights of women and the Government's obligations under this treaty? That was not clear in the report. For example, page 12 of the report, stated that the role of a woman was to be a caretaker of the family and children. Further down, the report said that women were broadly reflected in all social, political and economic areas, and that they had equal rights and equal opportunity. However, that was contradictory.
She said women could not enjoy equal freedoms if they were held responsible for the role of caretaker of the home and family. The Turkmenistan Ambassador's statement said that there could not be a universal strategy for achieving gender equality. While this was true, there must be a universal model of equality. What was the view of equality that could be elaborated? What differences did she see between women and men? How would such differences be addressed in the status of women in Turkmenistan?
Responding to Mr. Flinterman's question, Ms. ATAEVA said Turkmenistan had ratified the Women's Anti-Discrimination Convention in 1996, and that it had the status of law. If no law or legal act existed regarding a specific situation, then the issue was dealt with under the provisions of international treaties. She said she could not give examples of the use of the Convention in the courts.
In terms of public awareness-raising about the Convention, she said Turkmenistan society was informed about the Convention's existence and ratification. The Convention had been translated into Turkmenistan's national language, and it had been disseminated by the mass media. The Ministry, in cooperation with international organizations, had organized seminars and other training to educate people about the Convention.
In terms of the role of NGOs and women's organizations in advancing women's rights, she said there was a women's rights union of 1 million members. All women could go to the union for information and clarification regarding the Convention, as well as request consultations with other departments and organizations. Many other NGOs were working in Turkmenistan to promote advancement of women in vocational areas, as business owners and operators, and so forth. Women' rights organizations also existed in specific industries. Women represented 45 per cent of the membership of local unions and 37 per cent of the country's Democratic Party. That showed that women were indeed active in economic and political life.
Responding to Ms. Simonovic's questions, Ms. Ataeva said the Convention was a mandatory legal document in Turkmenistan. The country's Constitution recognized equal right for men and women and clearly stated that all citizens had the right to protection against discrimination. It clearly defined that, and there was no ambiguity in interpretation of the law. Turkmenistan's legal system monitored adherence to the law. Under Article 18 of the Constitution, women and men had equal rights as citizens.
Regarding Ms. Shanti Dairiam's questions, she said Turkmenistan's first country report to the Committee on women's issues was due in 1997 and the third in 2005. She recognized the need to submit reports on a timely basis and said that the present report had been delayed due to technical difficulties. Turkmenistan would try to submit the required materials on time in the future.
In terms of the role of women and men in the family, she said child-rearing was a mutual responsibility of wives and husbands. That was discussed in many parts of the Constitution.
Regarding efforts to overcome stereotypes, she said that civil society was trying to do that in order to achieve true gender equality and enable women to fulfil their potential. Social assistance was provided by the Government to ease family responsibilities.
There was no universal model or strategy for gender equality. Turkmenistan adhered to a model of development. There was no substantial difference between men and women under the law, and equality was mandated for both sexes. Women in Turkmenistan were very interested in this issue, and the Government was doing everything possible to achieve gender equality.
Experts' Questions and Comments
PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked to what extent had the judiciary been sensitized on the provisions of the Convention. Had there been training of the judiciary and the police? In that regard, what had been done since the ratification of the Convention? Were there any instances of the Convention being invoked in the courts? Had Turkmenistan received any technical assistance from the United Nations or other bodies? How gender-sensitive was Turkmenistan's judiciary? How many women were in the judiciary? How many women were accessing the courts? Was there a legal system in place to enable women to access justice? The report stated that there were no government statistics on that. What mechanisms did the Government have to collect gender-sensitive disaggregated data, including on discrimination against women?
HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, said she was disappointed in the report and its complete lack of data segregated by sex. The report repeatedly stated that Turkmenistan had rich natural resources and boasted of its industrial production. Why was not the Government spending money collecting data? That, in fact, was the general guideline for reporting to the Convention. The Ambassador's statement had included statistics from a random census in 2000. However, censuses were not done randomly. How often was a census carried out in Turkmenistan country? Why had not the Optional Protocol been ratified?
She said that, according to the Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Turkmenistan ranked 86 in the human development index in 2004, and 97 in 2005. There was no information in the country report to the Committee on the 2005 gender development index. Were women in Turkmenistan actually benefiting from all the rich resources and increased production?
Responding to Ms. Patten's question, Ms. ATAEVA said the judicial system, including the Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutors' Office, were, indeed, familiar with the Convention. The Turkmenistan Parliament was, as well. Seminars were regularly organized on all incoming documentation, including conventions. All new law enforcement offices had also been educated about the Convention. Turkmenistan's courts did refer to the Convention in their work. University faculties also provide Convention training. She said she did not know how many women worked in the judiciary. However, the General Prosecutor was a woman. Forty per cent of university students were female.
Regarding the lack of gender statistics, she said the Government was in the process of developing disaggregated data by gender on such areas as education and public health. Data was being collected so that it could be processed. Many seminars had been held on this subject, as well as training, to process gender-segregated data. The Department of Statistics had done a breakdown of economic sectors by gender, and that would appear in the next country report. That was conducted in conjunction with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
In terms of Ms. Shin's questions on human development, she said the country report was based on statistics that showed that 95 per cent of girls attended grade school up to the eighth grade. Turkmenistan was planning to increase the number of schools that were not State-run. It was also trying to meet international standards of determining maternal and infant mortality rates. According to the 2002 census, the average family size was 5.3 people.
In terms of conventions and treaties on trafficking in human beings and the rights of migrants, she said Turkmenistan was in the process of ratifying such protocols. The country report provided compelling figures on development, she said, adding that the country had made a concerted effort to gather and process international statistics.
As to Government spending on gender-specific statistics gathering, she said Turkmenistan did have gender-based statistics, and government resources were being spent so that the Statistics Department could be expanded to have subunits, including a subunit on gender issues. In that regard, several seminars had been held in the Statistics Department, which had been upgraded to become a Ministry of Statistics. That illustrated the importance the Government attached to statistics gathering.
Experts' Questions and Comments
ROSARIO MANALO, expert from the Philippines, asked why there had been no reference to the Convention in any court cases. Was it because no women had brought this to a court? Why had the Convention not been cited? Turkmenistan had been a signatory to the Convention for a long time. While welcoming Ms. Ataeva's presence, she said she would have preferred that someone from the home office brief the Committee. Why had not a representative from Headquarters come to brief the Committee? Was the women's union in Turkmenistan independent from the Government? Could women protest and file complaints against human rights violations? Were there any NGOs working in the field of reproductive rights? She asked for information on the role of NGOs.
Ms. ATAEVA said she did not say that there had been reference made of the Convention in the courts. She said she would express the wish that someone from Headquarters would brief the Committee and expressed hope that the future delegation to the Committee would be more representative. Non-governmental organizations worked independently of the Government. Under the Constitution, women had the right to file complaints in the courts. Recently, an international NGO conference had been held in Turkmenistan on women's issues. Women worked in various areas of politics and social life and the national economy. She said she did not have any specific information on NGOs working in the field of women's reproductive rights.
Experts' Comments and Questions
Turning to the subject of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, noted that each ministry within the Turkmen Government was responsible for promoting issues on the advancement of women that were relevant to its own sector. She asked how their efforts were being coordinated.
She also noted that the balance of pro-women measures fell more on upholding the woman's role in the family, in particular as a mother. However, since not all women wished to be mothers, did a mechanism exist to promote the advancement of all women regardless of their outlook on motherhood?
Finally, analysing a country's progress in the many areas dealing with the advancement of women was a major task, requiring the tracking of both improvements and failures within the country, as well as in comparison to other countries. She asked whether the National Statistics Institute was equipped to bear that task.
VICTORIA POPESCU SANDRU, expert from Romania, asked who had been charged with coordinating the preparation of the report. She noted that two outside advisers -- the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) -- had provided assistance, and advised the delegates to appeal also to the Division on the Advancement of Women if assistance was required in the future.
Regarding the Turkmenistan National Plan of Action of 1999, she asked what process had been undertaken in drafting it and by whom. Also, how were outcomes to the Plan of Action monitored? She also noticed mention of a mechanism to coordinate State activities at the local and national level. How was the Union of Women connected to that mechanism if at all? Finally, there had been no reference to violence against women in the report. She wondered if the National Plan of Action made any references to it, from domestic violence up to trafficking in women.
FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, followed up on Ms. Popescu Sandru's question by asking whether the National Plan of Action had a time frame.
Responding to those questions, Ms. ATAEVA said that, after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, a national policy on women had been drafted and included in the National Plan of Action. The Plan of Action was written with the participation of all the ministries; the Union of Women had also taken part. The National Plan helped to promote the advancement of women by determining the activities of ministries towards that end.
On the coordination of ministries in that area, she explained that an interdepartmental council existed for that purpose. The council included law enforcement bodies and social organizations, and assistance was given by a Committee of Human Rights set up under the Parliament. Democracy and human rights NGOs had also taken part in the preparation of the law.
On how women could protect their rights, she said that women's participation in the management sector was 42 per cent, higher than some countries. Some 70 per cent of women were active in the economy, able to combine work with their reproductive function. True, women had a choice on whether to become mothers or not; nevertheless, she stressed that Turkmenistan's culture held family and motherhood in high esteem.
She admitted that the National Institute of Statistics did not collect exhaustive data to monitor progress in the promotion of gender equality, but an effort was being made to do so. She regretted the lack of such data in the country report.
Turning to violence against women, she said that women in Turkmenistan did not go to the courts to settle such disputes, even though they were entitled to do so. Ms. Ataeva expressed a belief that domestic violence was "not widespread, and so women did not go to court because of it".
Experts' Comments and Questions
HANNA BEATA SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said the Convention's Optional Protocol would assist countries in carrying out their obligations, as well as help them to better understand those obligations. Noting that Turkmenistan had not ratified the Protocol, she asked if there were obstacles hindering the Government in ratifying it. Furthermore, an amendment had been made to the Convention in the mid-1990s, giving the Committee more meeting time, but she noted that Turkmenistan had not ratified it. Why was that the case?
Regarding the interdepartmental council, she asked whether its members were among the decision-makers within the Government. Also, was it a coordinating council or an advisory council? If advisory, was its advice binding? Did the Council have gender focal points?
Following up on that issue, Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked if the council had a Secretariat, a clear mandate and the necessary power to carry it out.
In order to seek assistance and learn about her rights, was there a place where Turkmen women could go? Was there a website perhaps? What was the level of Internet penetration in Turkmenistan? she asked.
On the ratification of the Optional Protocol and the amendment mentioned by Ms. Schöpp-Schilling, Ms. ATEAVA said she did not know of any substantial reasons for its delay. She said work was probably being on it at present.
On the interdepartmental council, she said the representatives were fairly highly placed, and decisions at the ministries were taken on the basis of their recommendations. They also provided consultative assistance and fielded questions from ministries regarding the National Plan of Action. In turn, implementing the recommendations of the interdepartmental council fell on the ministers. Their activities were subsequently monitored.
On where women could turn to for information about their rights, she said State-level "social organizations" operated reception centres with convenient office hours to answer questions of citizens. Periodic reviews were carried out to ensure that their duties were carried out adequately.
Further information was indeed presented on government websites, but Internet access in rural areas was still insufficient, she said. However, computer literacy was being taught to women through educational institutions. In the meantime, content from the website was transmitted daily on national television.
Experts' Comments and Questions
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, expressed regret that the report provided no concrete examples of temporary special measures taken to help advance gender equality. He feared that the scope of the Convention might not have been fully understood, judging by the poor responses in the report pertaining to that topic. He said the Committee viewed such special measures as vital to the cause, and that they were different from "permanent policies". He cited quotas in higher education as an example of a helpful temporary measure, given the low percentage of women in higher education in Turkmenistan.
On the lack of examples in that regard, Ms. ATAEVA said she would request additional information from the Government and transmit it to the Committee.
She then said temporary special quotas had indeed been introduced in higher education. If women's enrolment was seen to decrease from year to year, courses were offered at secondary school level to ensure that more women were accepted in the institutions of higher education.
Experts' Questions and Comments
On article 5, DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, said the country report focused heavily on women's traditional role as caretaker of the family and the home and also gave examples of how women were expected to obey their husbands and carry out their husbands' orders without question. What would happen if women did not obey their husbands? What would happen if women stepped out of their role as family caretaker to pursue personal advancement outside the home?
She said the report emphasized reproductive rights, but it did not acknowledge the fact that there were women who could not be mothers. What was the status in society of women without children? What steps were being taken to get rid of those stereotypes? The report did not mention the issue of violence against women nor respond to the list of questions being raised about that. She requested information on the extent of domestic violence and of any services for victims of domestic violence, including psychological and medical assistance, as well as access to domestic violence shelters. Was there any specific legislation against sexual harassment in the workplace?
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said that, in the chapter on article 5, the report stated that women had equal rights. However, later in the report there was evidence that in practice that principle was contradicted. The issue of fatherhood was absent from the report. It seemed that only motherhood mattered. The report said that a woman's greatest value were her family, husband and children. Was a man's greatest value not his family, wife and children? Was fatherhood not equally valued in dignity and worth? Was not a woman, in addition to being a mother, also a woman? The report said mothers and the elderly cared for children. What about the fathers? The report illustrated the imbalance of sex roles which impoverished women and the role of men. That did not help promote gender equality.
FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, said the Committee's session was supposed to be an exchange with national representatives responsible for gender equity issues. The report gave the impression that Turkmenistan was a paradise for women. She said she would really like to go there. However, it was not sufficient to have equality in law only. Equality must also be in practice. For the last few decades, women's organizations had devoted time to denouncing stereotypes of women in a domestic role and men in a public role. Several parts of the report were very representative of those stereotypes. Was there a women's press in Turkmenistan? Did citizens, particularly women, have access to the Internet? Did all Turkmenistan citizens have access to the United Nations website, specifically on the work of the Convention?
Responding to the experts' comments, Ms. ATAEVA said she regretted if the report gave the impression that there was an imbalance in favour of women and mothers. That was not the case in Turkmenistan. The role of women in Turkmenistan society was not confined to motherhood only. Spouses had equal rights and responsibilities in child-rearing and marriage. With the mutual consent of her husband, if a woman did not want children, if she wanted to continue her education or develop a career, she exercised her right to do as she pleased. She could not assert that that occurred in all families, but in most families decisions were made by mutual consent.
The media in Turkmenistan had information on issues concerning women and youth. Efforts were under way to overcome stereotypes about both men and women.
In terms of family violence, statistics on such violence did not exist, because women generally did not go to the courts even though they had the right to do so. Psychological and medical assistance was provided for abused women.
In terms of Ms. Tavares da Silva's concerns, she said women's role in the family was not limited to motherhood. She said she had given figures about the equality of women in all branches of Turkmenistan society. Women represented 48 per cent of the labour force.
Concerning reproductive health, she said reproductive health was a very important aspect of health care. Centres existed to grant family-planning assistance to spouses. Ninety per cent of pregnancies lead to successful births.
Ms. MANALO, expert from the Philippines, asked why women did not go to court to denounce violence. Was it because they felt they would be stigmatized? Did they fear they would not get help from the police and the authorities? Were they not informed of their right to go to court?
Ms. ATAEVA said women did know what their rights were. After a woman had gone to court, a consultation concerning prophylactics was held. Domestic violence was not very widespread. Women did go to the courts, but not in large numbers. They often preferred to settle matters themselves. They often called on elders in the family to solve such matters. However, should she choose to do so, a woman could go to court, file a complaint about her husband, and he could be sanctioned.
Women's rights were publicized by the mass media and the Ministry.
GLENDA SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, said violence against women was the most important issue in world. Violence against women was not just husbands slapping their wives. It was women being raped, beaten and murdered, sometimes by their husbands. It was not acceptable to wait for women to go to the police. The violence also had a strong psychological impact on women. There was something wrong with Turkmenistan's legal system if women were not going to the police. She encouraged the Turkmenistan Ambassador to tell official authorities to put the issue of violence against women on the front burner and not sweep it under the carpet.
Ms. ATAEVA agreed that violence against women was not just physical. It was also psychological. She would convey Ms. Simms' sentiments about that to Turkmenistan authorities. Indeed, it was very important to overcome stereotypes. The Government was doing all it could to counter them. She recognized that current efforts were not sufficient and must be increased.
Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked whether there were laws against domestic violence. Were there safe shelters funded by the Government for women victims of domestic violence? Were there any 24-hour hotlines for them to call? Were there any other measures to help women victims of violence? Were there any measures to punish male perpetrators of such violence? While pleased that Turkmenistan had in 2005 ratified the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, she said Ms. Ataeva had informed the Committee that there were no cases of trafficking in Turkmenistan. Was trafficking of women criminalized? Ms. Ataeva had said that prostitution was prohibited. Were there any sanctions against men who hired prostitutes and for female prostitutes?
Ms. ATAEVA said domestic violence was covered by the country's criminal code. Violators were brought to justice. A domestic affairs organization existed to address domestic violence as did a hotline for domestic violence victims. There were no domestic violence shelters, because the problem was not widespread. Family violence was punishable under the criminal code.
Trafficking in women was not covered under the law. Such trafficking would require certain socio-economic factors. However, that was not the case. Independent bodies had not found any trafficking in women.
Prostitution was a criminal offence under article 38 of the criminal code. Female and male violators were prosecuted under articles 141 and 142. For cases of procurement and confiscation of property, the sentence was three to eight years. Trafficking in women, prostitution and procurement of women for sexual exploitation were unacceptable. Health authorities also attempted to explain the health aspects of such practices and their negative impact on society.
Experts' Comments and Questions
On the participation of women in political and public life, Ms. POPESCU SANDRU, expert from Romania, asked how many women served on the 2,507-strong People's Council. Meanwhile, she noted that at the local-government level, only 14 per cent of officials were women and asked why the number was so low. Were the 37 per cent of women serving in government posts occupying high-level positions or were they merely "employees"? Aside from Ms. Ataeva herself, were there any other women ambassadors?
ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, noted that there were 40 different ethnic groups in Turkmenistan and asked what proportion of the ethnic minority population was female. Were there legal provisions to ensure their equal participation in political life? The report stated that women were "the guardians of the family, the cultivators of children, and loyal advisers to their husbands". Were there any legal provisions in place to ensure men's equal participation in family life?
Ms. MANALO, expert from the Philippines, noted that 40 per cent of students in State universities studied international relations and law. Was there a system in place to encourage young women and girls to represent their country internationally in the form of a career?
Ms. ATAEVA said that 30 per cent of the People's Council membership were women and they held leading positions. That number did not include women serving the Council in lower-ranking capacities. Some 42 per cent were women involved in State administration, also at decision-making levels, some of whom occupied ministerial or deputy ministerial posts. Three of the country's Cabinet ministers were women, serving in the Ministries of Social Security, Culture, and Television and Radio Broadcasting. The Minister of Culture herself had risen from the ranks of the khyakim (village-level leadership).
Regarding the involvement of women in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she said a new generation of diplomats was being groomed. During the Soviet era, there had been one female Turkmen diplomat serving served in Bolivia. After independence, a new faculty had been established resulting in the presence of a number of female first secretaries, attachés and ambassadors.
She added that a purely female order had been established from which awards were given to women who had achieved success in public life, including herself.
On family life, she stressed that men were indeed being encouraged to assume domestic responsibilities in both the urban centres and the villages. As a result, women were able to free up their time and become entrepreneurs, for example.
With respect to ethnic minorities, she said 94 percent of the population were Turkmen. Because the percentage of minorities in the population was so low, there was no quota system directed at them. However, equal possibilities were given so they could participate in public life. One president of a parliamentary committee belonged to an ethnic minority, as did some newspaper editors.
On the subject of nationality, Ms. MANALO, expert from the Philippines, noted that women were not allowed to apply for citizenship in other countries. How did the Government intend to reconcile that with article 9 of the Convention, which stated that "States parties shall grant women equal rights with men to acquire, change or retain their nationality"?
Ms. ATAEVA replied that each person did, indeed, have the freedom to decide their citizenship and, in fact, many citizens of Turkmenistan had adopted Russian citizenship. The same applied to choice of residence. Also, if a husband changed his nationality, his wife was not obliged to adopt the same citizenship.
Experts' Comments and Questions
Turning to education, Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said that general secondary education was mandated in Turkmenistan and was free of charge. However, the number of years of compulsory -- and thus free -- education had been reduced from 11 years to nine. He asked what impact it had on girls, especially those who wished to pursue higher education. Also, the report referred to the differentiation of specialties according to sex, so that there was a "women's path" and a "men's path". Were there any efforts to encourage women to follow men's paths? Finally, was reproductive education compulsory?
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked about closure of Russian schools and whether it posed difficulties to particular groups of people. Also, was it true that there was a decree that said foreign diplomas were not recognized? If so, how did that affect women who studied abroad? She also wanted to know if the curricula and textbooks were regularly monitored to ensure they did not perpetuate sex role stereotypes.
SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, asked the delegation to clarify the nature of women's involvement in science and technology subjects as opposed to "carpet weaving, cooking, sewing", which the report described as "women's specialties". She had also heard of the existence of a spiritual guidebook called the "rukhnama". Was it seen as basis of the definition of nationhood? Was it part of the school curriculum? In addition, were children taught about non-discrimination on the basis of sex? Finally, was there a difference in educational attainment between Turkmen and other ethnic minority groups, as well as between males and females?
Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, asked whether there were specific courses of teaching on gender issues. She said that there seemed to be a need for it in Turkmenistan, so that people could contribute effectively to eliminating gender inequality. Also, was any training provided to women on the usage of the computer and the Internet?
Ms. ATAEVA replied that she would only be able to provide clear answers to questions regarding educational attainment of males versus females, or labour patterns of males versus females, if disaggregated statistics existed. She begged the Committee's indulgence because that type of data was only starting to be collected in Turkmenistan.
On the number of people pursuing higher education in general, she said that though compulsory schooling ended at 16 years of age, 19 per cent of the population pursued higher education. That, is turn, enabled more people to enter the economy armed with knowledge of new technologies. Vocational guidance was also provided at secondary school level, enabling students to enter the type of work towards which they were most inclined. As for "women's paths" versus "men's paths", she said that was merely descriptive. Health, education, art, culture, and science were said to be women's paths, because more women chose them. Other fields, such as in the oil industry, transport and communications, had more difficult working conditions resulting in fewer women taking part.
As for the closure of Russian schools, Ms. Ataeva said that the number of purely Russian-speaking people was quite small, and they were mostly attached to the military. It was, thus, not deemed necessary to keep Russian schools open. However, over 1,000 schools taught in both Russian and Turkmen, since Russian was largely spoken, even though Turkmen was the official language. The number of purely Russian-speaking schools was determined by need. Dissatisfaction of nationals over their dwindling number was not recorded.
Of those working and studying abroad, their qualifications were, indeed, recognized within the country, and most graduates were able to find work upon their return. She said the decree referred to by Ms. Tavares da Silva did not say that foreign diplomas were not recognized; rather, it only said that it was necessary to verify the legitimacy of a diploma before it was recognized, since certain foreign commercial schools were not thought to be up to standard.
She assured the Committee that stereotypes concerning "male" or "female" careers were absent from school text books. Women in Turkmenistan participated in science, sport and technology. There was no pre-selection of subjects that women could pursue, and conditions were provided to enable women to pursue any course they wished. True, the report mentioned "carpet-weaving", but only because it was felt that Turkmen carpets were known around the world to be of high value.
Regarding ethnic minorities and their access to education, she said they must fulfil the same requirements as others to enter the educational system, so quotas were not deemed necessary. Residents of rural areas similarly faced the same requirements to enter institutions of higher education when compared to urban residents.
On the "rukhnama", she said that it was not considered to be the ideological basis of the nation. Nevertheless, it did call for respect of women and non-discrimination and was seen to be of value in that sense.
On the training of leaders to fight gender discrimination, she said a union of men and women in Parliament, aided by UNICEF, currently offered seminars on the subject followed by discussions. Those seminars were designed to promote the equal rights of women, as well as raise awareness of laws to guarantee those rights.
Regarding the use of computers and the Internet, she said the Government was trying to expand its online infrastructure, so that the service could be made available as widely as possible.
On women's reproductive health, she said it was not a compulsory subject, although such classes were offered in schools.
Ms. Ataeva remarked that many references had been made during the meeting to Turkmenistan's gas and oil industry. She reminded the Committee that the country had not been able to make full use of those resources, since it had long been providing raw materials to Russia and was only now able to enjoy those resources for themselves.
Experts' Questions and Comments
Ms. MANALO, expert from the Philippines, asked for clarification regarding a paragraph in the report, which stated: "The index of development with regard to the gender factor in Turkmenistan is equal to 0.716 and hardly differs from the index of development of human potential, equal to 99.4 per cent, which obviously indicates that only very minimal differences exist in the country between women and men in the area of human development." She asked that, in the next report, an explanation be given of how the two indexes were linked and what they truly signified.
On article 11, Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said independent sources had revealed that thousands of jobs had been eliminated in the health-care sector, having a direct bearing on women there. What were her comments on employment cuts? Did she have data on the number of women and men affected by those cuts? What steps had been taken to provide the affected women with alternate employment? Independent reports also stated that as much as 70 per cent of the population was unemployed. How many foreign workers were there in Turkmenistan?
She requested data on job segregation in the formal sector, and asked the following employment-related questions: What efforts had been taken to create opportunities and encourage women to enter traditionally male-dominated occupations? What was the level of women's participation in the informal sector? What efforts were being made to protect those women? How effectively were labour code provisions being implemented? To what extent were those provisions being accepted, particularly in regard to sex, marriage and pregnancies? To what extent were women aware of their labour rights? Did women occupy high-level positions in trade unions? Were there no labour laws against sexual harassment? She requested more information on that.
FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, said that, according to the country report, government assistance for child-rearing was only provided to mothers. Was there any intention of changing that so that such assistance was also given to fathers? The country report also said the Government provided mothers with full salary during pregnancy leave of 112 days. Did that mean that wages were covered during that entire period by the employer? Was it not covered by State social security system? If employers had to cover 100 per cent of a woman's wages, then did that affect the employment of women? Did the Government intend to change that system so that maternal leave was covered by the State? The retirement age was 57 for women and 60 for men. What happened if women want to work after age 57? Life expectancy was longer for women than for men. Why did that difference in the retirement age exist?
Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked what training and other measures were being taken to help women who had lost their jobs in the health-care sector. Why were salaries in education and health care lower than in Government? Why did salaries in the education and health fields, traditionally seen as extensions of family functions, tend to be lower? Were there any women in high-level government posts? How were maternity leave benefits regulated for self-employed women?
Regarding discrepancies in government pay for men and women, Ms. ATAEVA said men and women received equal pay under the law. Pay scales depended on skills, experience and tasks involved. Enterprises and unions had their own system for setting salaries.
The cuts in jobs for teachers and health-care workers occurred because of government reorganization, she said. It had not had negative consequences on women because new health and educational institutions had been opened, including diagnostic and prophylactic centres, resulting in new jobs for those women. Those who had been laid off were provided with training for new jobs.
She said the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had in 1998 and 2001 conducted research on pay scales in Turkmenistan. In 2003, the Asian Development Bank was conducting research on standards of living. Work was under way to investigate the gender aspect of employment and income.
Women's salaries were different from men's salaries because women tended to work in the social sector, while men tended to work in the industrial sector where the work was harder. Sex discrimination in salaries did not exist. She added that employers could not refuse jobs to pregnant or married women. Trade unions were dealing a lot with worker rights and employment.
State assistance was not only provided to mothers, but was also provided to families for child-rearing, she continued. The Government granted 112 days of pregnancy leave for all women, and provided full pay to them during that time.
The retirement age was different for men and women, she said. It used to be 50 for women and 60 for men. A woman who had achieved a right to a pension could continue working. If that woman continued to work, she would receive her pension and the wages for the work she did.
She said pay scales varied among government sectors, such as health care, education, culture, and administrative work and were determined by unions according to worker qualifications. Pay tended to be higher for more educated people and those in the intellectual sphere.
The figures Ms. Patten provided about unemployment were not accurate, she stated. The unemployment rate in Turkmenistan was 2 per cent. In rural areas and in Azkaban, unemployed people could obtain assistance and vacancy announcements.
Regarding foreign workers, she said some private enterprises offered jobs to both foreigners and nationals. However, there was a ceiling on the number of foreign workers permitted in the country in order to ensure that Turkmenistan citizens could get jobs.
Experts' Comments and Questions
Ms. SHANTI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, expressed disappointment over the lack of data on women's access to medical services, as well as general indicators of their well-being. While health houses and polyclinics had been introduced in rural areas following a series of health reforms, were they geographically easy to reach? Were there any physical barriers to access? Maternal mortality remained a serious concern, exacerbated by a lack of clarity on the meaning of "maternal mortality", "morbidity" and "infant mortality". Was the Government receiving or seeking technical assistance in those matters from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), for example? Did the closure of hospitals outside the capital pose problems in women's access to contraceptives?
Ms. AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, concurred with Ms. Shanti Dairiam on the lack of data on health, in particular maternal and infant mortality, as well as data on rates of morbidity and mortality, in general (not necessarily related to pregnancy and childbirth). What of data on the effects of such diseases as cancer? Also, there had been a decrease in birth rate in the 1990s, but more recent statistics indicated that the country had a large number of people under 25 years of age (66 per cent of the population). That seemed to indicate an increase in birth rate in the intervening years. What had caused it?
Ms. ATAEVA agreed with the experts on the importance of health statistics, as well as access to public health care, and assured the Committee that the next report would include such data. The restructuring of the health system had resulted in a significantly improved health service, where free health care was provided to the rural population. More than 4,300 family centres had been established as part of that reform. Under health insurance introduced after independence, citizens were given allowances or discounts for medicines and medical services. Over 90 per cent of the population was covered by health insurance.
She said the drop in birth rate could be explained by the large number of women entering the workforce and a better understanding of contraceptive health. Work was being done with the UNFPA to provide training on contraceptives to the population, and protection of motherhood was guaranteed by many laws.
Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said that while there was formal equality between women and men before the law, it was possible for gaps to exist between theory and reality. With regard to credits and loans, for instance, while there were no legal restrictions on women, might there be other obstacles? For example, was collateral needed to apply for a loan, and did many women have the requisite property? Also, did they need permission from their spouses to apply for loans? Did daughters enjoy the same inheritance rights as sons?
Ms. ATAEVA said that, under the law, women had the same rights to credit and loans as men. But, while the State had no preventive measures in that area, decision-making was often influenced by the family, and women might well face challenges from their own families. As far as inheritance rights were concerned, women and men had equal rights; and if their rights were infringed upon, they could seek legal recourse.
Experts' Questions and Comments
On article 11, Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said the country report gave the impression that rural women lived wonderful lives, with many generations living harmoniously under one roof. It was implied that women were the mainstays of society in terms of family values, because they hardly divorced and usually married at a very early age. Was there a law in Turkmenistan against carnal abuse? What was the legal age for marriage, and were there more statistics in that regard? Could women own land, and, if so, could divorced women legally own land? Could women depend on their children in her old age? The country report did not give real insights into rural women.
ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, asked how many agricultural credits were given to women and men. Such comparative data could be very interesting. What new programmes was the country adopting for rural women? Had there been any assessment of the impact of such programmes on women's lives in villages? To what extent were basic necessities -- including adequate housing, schools, electricity and water -- available in rural homes?
According to paragraph 129 of the country report, a presidential decree had given all citizens the right to use and own land, she said. Women and other families helped work the farms. What percentage of women owned those privatized lands? Were women working in agricultural family enterprises paid for their work? Did they get State medical insurance and other benefits? Could she provide examples of the kinds of benefits provided to rural women?
ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, said the Committee was told that per presidential decrees on land use, 3,700 citizens had land use rights and 1,400 had rights to lease land. What did that mean? What was the standard for who could own land and who could lease it? After leasing the land, did men and women have equal rights to its use? How did the transfer of land from State to private ownership affect women? The country report said that rural families on average had six children. Were rural women being given any information on reproductive health? To her understanding, the maternal mortality rate was six deaths for every 1,000 births.
Ms. ATAEVA said women both owned and rented land, and men and women received government allowances for agricultural equipment for harvesting, fertilizers and other materials to improve agricultural production. Water for irrigation was free. Government assistance was provided to help improve women's working conditions and purchasing power, which could have a positive impact on their state of health. In the private sector, allowances were provided for harvesting equipment, housing and cattle production. In the agricultural field, women and men had equal pay and access to credit. She did not have exact figures for credit given to women versus men, but new village projects did give women the same access to credit as men.
Regarding Ms. Tan's question on basic infrastructure and services for rural women, she said that water and electricity were free in Turkmenistan townships. All villages had been equipped with electricity and gas delivery infrastructure. Almost all rural families had their own homes and form of transportation. The new village project also aimed to improve rural housing conditions in line with township housing conditions; however, thus far, there was no analysis of this.
It was not true that rural women were subjected to carnal abuse, forced early marriages and that they were only used for reproduction purposes, she said. Educated people lived in rural areas, as well. Divorced women had the same rights to land as men and married women. Sons and daughters had equal rights to land inheritance. Government rewards were provided for exemplary agricultural labour.
Concerning unemployment indicators, she said fertility rates were dropping among the rural population, which had access to contraceptives, family planning and reproductive heath education. Non-governmental organization and UNICEF were involved in rural areas. Health centres had been set up in rural populations to provide medical care, and were working closely with family planning offices and local government to provide medical care to pregnant woman and education on the spread of infectious diseases.
Experts' Comments and Questions
On law, marriage and family life, Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, pointed to the existence of a law saying that kidnapping for the purpose of entering into marriage was a crime. He asked if anyone had been prosecuted under that law. Also, what role did men play in the family? He then pointed out that 16 was a marriageable age in Turkmenistan, but the age of marriage as contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Women's Convention stood at 18.
Following up on Mr. Flinterman's comment, Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, asked if the Government planned to increase that age to 18 years.
Ms. KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, noted that men and women enjoyed equal rights to enter into marriage, as well as equal responsibility over the care of children after divorce. She asked whether equal rights were respected during marriage. Also, what about polygamous relationships, especially in rural areas? Since polygamy was illegal in Turkmenistan, were polygamous men punished? If a man took a second wife, was it grounds for divorce for the first wife?
Ms. ATAEVA stressed that not all marriages were contracted at the age of 16. The low age limit served a practical purpose in that it allowed sexually active couples to avoid having extramarital relations and to protect them from any "consequences" that might arise from such relations. She confirmed that kidnapping was a crime and condemned by the law, but provided no other information on the subject.
She said that men and women had equal rights to enter into marriage with no additional conditions; because of that, bride price was forbidden in Turkmenistan. In fact, bride price was popularly condemned, as shown by its treatment in the media.
Regarding polygamy, she confirmed that it was, indeed, forbidden. There were no laws protecting women involved in polygamous situations, since the State only recognized monogamous marriages. She pointed out that both women and men were encouraged to enter marriage at an older age.
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said that Ms. Ataeva's statement that jobs in education and health care were easier to do than jobs in the industrial sector was a statement based on stereotypes. Was nursing easy work? Was it easy to care for sick people? Was it easy to take care of noisy children all day long who required constant attention? Were those jobs physically and psychological difficult in any way? Not all industrial jobs were difficult. Difficult jobs existed in all sectors.
Ms. ATAEVA said she agreed that nursing and other traditional women's jobs were not easier than traditional men's jobs, but, unfortunately, pay parity had not been achieved. Jobs in energy-producing industries were considered more difficult and, for that reason, pay levels were higher in industry. However, the Government was doing all it could to rectify that situation and was reviewing progress annually. Pay scales for nurses and teachers needed to change, as such professionals not only had a heavy burden, but also high level of responsibility. She said such comments would be duly taken into account.
Experts' Questions and Comments
ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, asked about the reception centres where women could go to and file complaints. How did that work? What was the process in which women could do this?
Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked whether the Turkmenistan Government was receiving assistance from the UNFPA and the World Health Organization (WHO). Was rape a crime? What about rape inside marriage?
Ms. ATAEVA said the reception centres were run by local governments and were staffed by women's representatives. The law required that women's complaints be addressed within a determined time frame in a competent manner.
Rape inside marriage was considered a crime.
In her closing remarks, Ms. Ataeva said the experts' input would be duly noted by Turkmenistan authorities, particularly their concerns regarding the lack of disaggregated data.
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