|For information only - not an official document.|
|Press Release No: UNIS/WOM/485|
|Release Date: 16 June 2000|
|Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee Concludes Consideration
Of Austria’s Third, Fourth, Fifth Reports
NEW YORK, 15 June (UN Headquarters) -- The Beijing Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women and the outcome document of the recently concluded General Assembly special session that reviewed implementation of the Platform had both stressed that marginalizing women’s machinery would limit the ability to mainstream gender, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was told this afternoon.
As the Committee concluded its consideration of Austria’s combined third and fourth and fifth periodic reports on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, an expert expressed concern about Austria’s national machinery to deal with gender mainstreaming, since the Ministry for Women’s Affairs had been removed from the Chancellor’s Office. The ability of a specific department or ministry was necessary in order for mainstreaming to be accomplished. She wondered if moving the women’s ministry would affect its level of authority. Under the new arrangement, would the advancement of women involve only social issues?
Addressing the Committee’s concerns, Elisabeth Sickl, Federal Minister for Social Security and Generations, said in the Austrian Constitution all decisions must be made unanimously. No one ministry was more important than another. There was no formal difference in that regard. Under her Ministry, the women’s affairs department enjoyed the same role and formal position, as it would have in any other ministry.
Several Committee experts also wondered if Austrian law enforcement and judiciary officials were sensitized to the needs of migrant women, particularly in the area of violence. Were training programmes in place that would address the issue? they asked. That was important, because it was felt that law enforcement officials often considered violence against women in migrant communities as a culturally specific phenomenon. Experts wondered what work non-governmental organizations in that country were doing on the issue. Were there any specific programmes that dealt with violence against migrant women or other of the more vulnerable segments of society?
Heinz Drobesch, Federal Ministry of the Interior, said that an Advisory Council had been established in cooperation with non-governmental organizations to study new proposals to combat violence. There were three working groups on the protection of victims, including domestic violence against female migrants and violence against children.
The Committee will meet again at 10:30 a.m. Friday, 16 June, to commence consideration of Lithuania’s initial and second periodic reports.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this afternoon to continue its consideration of the third, fourth and fifth periodic reports of Austria’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It was expected to hear further comments and questions by the Committee’s expert members, as well as responses by the Austrian delegation. [For background on Austria’s report, see Press Release WOM/1218 issued today.]
Comments and Questions by Experts
An expert, addressing the issue of a ministry for women’s affairs in Austria, said that the Beijing Platform for Action pointed out that the marginizlation of women’s machinery would limit their ability to mainstream gender. Those concerns were again raised in the outcome document of the twenty-second special session of the General Assembly. The Committee should be concerned about the status of Austria’s national machinery to deal with gender mainstreaming. The ability of a specific department or ministry was necessary in order for mainstreaming to be accomplished.
She said that her other concern was the issue of the process for gender mainstreaming. Was there a lead ministry or department with that responsibility as its core function? If so, did it have the critical resources for gender mainstreaming? On the inter-ministerial working group for gender mainstreaming, what ministries made up that working group? She also asked for clarification for the level and position of the people who would head those ministries. Also, was the inter-ministerial working group the same as that chaired by the Minister? If they were two different working groups, what were their roles and functions?
Another expert said that Austria was well known for its efforts to integrate people of other cultures into Austrian society. Yet, she wondered whether there was an institutionalized ability to discriminate against foreigners on Austrian soil. On women who were trafficked into Austria, it was the responsibility of the State to care for their every need. Traffickers must also be punished. In the case of migrant women, women did not always have the same ability to obtain work permits as did men. Policies to protect women asylum-seekers must be firmly followed.
On the issue of violence against women, the expert noted that the Equal Treatment Commission and the labour court had focused on sexual harassment, particularly in employment. That was a positive step on the part of the Government. If Austria’s experience was typical, the incidence of domestic violence would be far greater than the cases that came before the courts. If Austria wished to limit such violence, it would need to have a fully integrated policy on violence against women. The first step was to ensure that police must understand why they must arrest aggressors. That was not a once-only education policy, but must be ongoing. Health professionals, lawyers and other members of the community must also be reminded and educated that it was a major issue.
Research must bear in mind other country’s experiences, she added. Moreover, the case of elderly women, who were often victims of physical, emotional and financial abuse, should be also be studied. On sexual violence, the community must make sure that the aggressor was prosecuted, regardless of age. Aggressors must be firmly prosecuted, no matter how long the process took.
While the family child-care policy was admirable, one expert wanted to know if that allowance would be allowed for migrant women. What specific effect would the policy have on migrant women?
She also wondered if Austrian law enforcement and judiciary officials were sensitized to the needs of migrant women, particularly in the area of violence. Were training programmes in place that would address the issue? That was important, because it was felt that law enforcement officials often considered violence against women in migrant communities as a culturally specific phenomenon.
On the issue of education, the expert urged the Austrian delegation to make sure that there was equitable distribution between men and women. Quotas and percentages were not positive.
Another expert addressed the persistent stereotypical attitudes towards women in Austria’s labour market. It was obvious that programmes currently in place had not been effective. The findings were particularly dire in the field of education, where there were very few women professors at the university level. What was being done to bridge the salary gap between men and women? Had Austria made any changes in its part-time employment policies?
Turning to Austria’s stated aim of providing better opportunities for women in the fields of communications and new technologies, she wondered how that could be achieved when they were not being promoted in the jobs they already had, and many were not even considered for occupations outside so-called “women’s jobs”.
Response by Austria
ELISABETH SICKL, Minister for Social Security and Generations of Austria, responding to the question on a gender mainstreaming working group, said that there was one gender mainstreaming working group which was composed of representatives from all ministries. That group’s task was to observe gender mainstreaming on behalf of the civil servants in the Ministry itself. The Austrian federal Government was a model in gender mainstreaming in the employment of female civil servants.
However, the inter-ministerial working group that she would install would be something different, she added. It would include a gender mainstreaming civil servant whose task was to observe the output of the Ministry regarding women’s issues. There would be one gender mainstreaming representative in all ministries to encourage the advancement of women’s issues. It was important to raise awareness of women’s issues to change decision-making patterns. The agreement of the coalition had at its core the principle that programmes for women was a cross-departmental issue.
On the issue of migrants, she said that one of her interests was fostering the integration of migrants. Regarding the child-care allowance scheme, it was designed to offer parents freedom of choice. It was not a trap to keep them at home, but was meant to give both mothers and fathers the opportunity to choose to either continue in their jobs or stay at home. Child-care allowance would be given in both cases. There was a statistic that showed that over 90 per cent of Austrian parents preferred staying at home with their newborns at first, before bringing their children to a day-care facility.
EVA KRICHMAYAR, of the Federal Ministry for Social Security and Generations, said that she agreed with the experts that there needed to be a central institution to collect and distribute data and information on gender issues. She also said that Austria had put into place permanent training courses for the support staff of women’s centres that dealt with victims of violence or abuse.
HEINZ DROBESCH, of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, said that health care for victims of trafficking would be provided by the Government and administered through intervention centres. That would continue as long as the number of cases remained low. But, if there was an increase –- there had been only three cases last year -– then new measures would have to be identified to offset any economic burdens that might be incurred.
He went on to say that the Austrian Parliament would amend its alien law to address what had been called “exploitative trafficking”. That provision of the law would now be called “exploitation of aliens” and would protect trafficked, smuggled or other unlawful Austrian residents from exploitation. A penalty of imprisonment for up to two years would be imposed on traffickers.
He went on to say that residence permits for immigrants could be provided for humanitarian reasons. That would allow immigrants or migrants that were victims of crimes some time to prepare for return home, as well as enable them to raise civil claims against the perpetrator, or to testify in any criminal proceedings.
On the issue of training programmes specifically geared towards the needs of migrants suffering domestic violence, he said that workshops had been established throughout Austria to provide information to non-governmental organizations, police and social workers. He agreed that the process must be ongoing. He added that the punishment had been raised for perpetrators of violence against women. Austria’s law for asylum-seekers had been amended in 1997 to establish an independent asylum authority that would allow a wider range of appeals from parties.
SILVIA ANGELO, Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Labour, said that, concerning work permits for migrant workers, there was a certain quota for work permits for workers not from European Union member countries. The quota was 8 per cent of the working population. Two days ago, a new regulation was introduced on the integration measure for migrants who legally lived in the country, but who did not have a work permit. The new regulation made it easier for migrant workers to have access to the labour market, in that it shortened the time frame in which the public employment service could find employees. The service had two weeks to find an unemployed person to fill a job. If a person could not be found, foreigners who had been in country over five years would be given the opportunity for employment. Women migrants could be employed if they had lived in Austria for only three years.
On the question of a segregated labour market, she said that it was difficult to integrate women into male-dominated shops and technology fields. There were five different kinds of labour markets. The lower markets included the area of trade. In that sector, the wage level was lower. One way to address the problem of separate labour markets was to try to integrate them into male- dominated sectors. It was very difficult to cope with the problems women encountered in entering male-dominated industries. There were several programmes to that end, including a programme for introducing women into the information technology field.
SANDRA MUKHERJEE-COSMIDIS, Federal Ministry for Education, Science and Culture, said that in the last decade, without legislation women would not have had a chance in academia. Austria had produced unrivalled legislation in that area. However, it had not reached the target of 40 per cent. From the statistical point of view, the number of female professors had risen from 2.8 to 6 per cent. Although that did not seem like much, compared to other European countries, Austria was faring pretty well. A working group was currently focusing on an implementation scheme for changing the academic system. There was an emphasis on prizes and grants. Austria was also working closely with the European Community on women in science. Austria hoped to gain more insight from its neighbours.
HELMUT SIEDL, Federal Ministry for Social Security and Generations, said that the retirement age for women was 60 and 65 for men. The amount on the pension depended on the number of insurance periods and the contribution paid. If the pension of a person together with other income did not meet a certain amount, it was supplemented by the State to reach a minimum pension. One of the aims of the Government was to individualize the retirement rights of women. There had been measures in that field already, including voluntary pension insurance. In 1999, 9,200 women were insured in the voluntary insurance plan.
Legislation concerning employed persons with low income had also changed, he continued. Employed persons with incomes below income thresholds for 2000 had the possibility of voluntary sickness and pension insurance. In 1999, about 20,400 people took advantage of voluntary pensions. Pensions for women had risen by more than 7 per cent. Women had benefited because they could retire earlier. About 60 per cent of women were entitled to retirement pensions. Any maternity leave would be considered a contribution to their future retirement pension.
Since Austria seemed to have comprehensive laws that dealt with violence against women, one expert wondered what work non-governmental organizations in that country were doing on the issue. Were there any specific programmes that dealt with violence against migrant women or other of the more vulnerable segments of society?
She was also concerned about women’s representation in the Government, particularly at the local level. There was also concern about the low number of women in academia. She was interested in the number of gender bias cases that had been brought before Austria’s labour court. Could that information be included in the next report?
The Violence Protection Act was commendable, so far as it provided for the training of police and law enforcement and set up intervention centres, but it still needed improvement in many areas. The procedure for compensation for victims of violence seemed at odds with a true desire to help. The number of female police officers should be proportionate to the percentage of cases of violence against women. Did the Government have any intention of increasing the number of women officers?
She had further concerns about the Act’s injunction provision. Was it possible to establish a special section to ensure that there would be no worry about abusive or wrongful injunction orders being issued? Could the punishment of those who break injunctions be increased?
Another expert expressed general concerns about the “pilot projects” the Government of Austria was engaged in. The number of those projects was relatively high, and a representative of the delegation had herself mentioned that those programmes often brought more gains in knowledge than many concrete results in policy and law. She encouraged the delegation to go beyond the “pilot” stage of such projects to ensure that ongoing policies were being enacted. Persistent stereotypical attitudes were also a concern. She urged the Government to take on the responsibility to influence attitudes in that area.
She went on to urge the delegation to restructure the nature of the intervention centres that had been set up to help victims of violence. The small-scale operation in existence at present might not be the answer, as the problem of violence against women appeared to be on the increase worldwide. Also, to what extent did Austria cooperate with the immigration authorities of other countries when dealing with the problem of migrant women who were victims of abuse? She also felt that it was necessary for Austria to enhance the infrastructure to provide a greater number of child-care facilities.
Another expert expressed concern about the conditions of women in prison. Were crimes more prevalent among native Austrians or migrant women? What sort of rehabilitation programmes existed for those women? Was there any proactive policy for women and girl children with disabilities to better incorporate them into the development of the country?
Another expert wondered if there was a specific entity to compile data on contracts that were granted to agencies, which gave priority to organizations that were striving to ensure the advancement of women.
It was true that gender mainstreaming could not be effective without a strong budget, another expert said. How were gender mainstreaming policies funded in Austria? How was gender mainstreaming monitored? Could the results of such activities be measured within a specific period of time? What about redress for failure to meet critical aspects of gender mainstreaming provisions?
Another expert said that there was an “insidious practice” known as the “au pair”, which encouraged the illegal recruitment of foreign domestic workers. Many European countries were involved in that practice. Was Austria taking any measures to confront the issue?
Another expert asked for a description of the interaction with non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Was there room for NGOs to assist in the development for the advancement of women? Had there been consultation in the decision to do away with the former arrangement for women’s affairs ministry? As had been pointed out in the Beijing debate, it was clear that to have effective machinery, the machinery must be incorporated in the highest office of that country. She was concerned that the ministry had been removed from the Chancellor’s Office and had moved to an ordinary ministry. Ministries had equal levels of authority, and being included in a ministry removed the level of authority that the ministry had while in the Chancellor’s Office. Would the new arrangement be effective, or would the advancement of women involve only social issues?
The expert said that on the issue of representation of women in Government, there seemed to be a drop in the number of women in the Parliament. In the Committee’s experience, it was important for women to maintain a critical mass of 30 to 35 per cent to impact decision-making. What measures had been taken to improve the number of women in all levels of Government?
Response by Austria
Ms. KRICHMAYAR, Federal Ministry for Social Security and Generations, said that her ministry worked with NGOs, especially in the area of violence against women. By way of example, in 1998-1999, an anti-violence campaign established a 24-hour nation-wide hotline for women. That programme would be further supported by the Government.
Mr. DROBESCH, Federal Ministry of the Interior, said that the Advisory Council was set up by a statutory regulation and consisted of 15 members from the various ministries. Non-governmental organizations were also represented in the Council. The Advisory Council was to advise the Ministry of Interior concerning the funding of NGOs, the study of reports from intervention centres and new proposals to combat violence. There were three working groups for the protection of victims, including domestic violence against female migrants and violence against children. Concerning the compensation of victims, that was a difficult issue. There was an old criminal law that did not refer to victims. There was also a working group concerning the protection of victims, and a proposal to amend the criminal law was forthcoming.
He said that, in the case of interim injunctions in family courts, there was a difference between prohibition orders issued by police and interim injunctions which were upon the application of the victim. The assistance of the intervention centre played an important role. International cooperation had been established in the area of trafficking, including with the holding of seminars with Eastern European countries and joint projects with other European Union countries. On women in prison, it depended on the type of crimes. Generally, migrants committed fewer crimes than Austrians. On the issue of au pairs, in the Austrian system, if one wanted to work as an au pair, an application must be filed and a settlement permit was needed. It was difficult to misuse that system.
Ms. MUKHERJEE-COSMIDIS, Federal Ministry for Education, Science and Cultures, said that the women in technology project had not run long enough to know what improvements had been made in employment opportunities for women. Austria had moved forward substantially in the academic field, and they continued to work towards solutions.
VERENA WIMMER-KODAT said that, as a result of the Beijing process, Austria had engaged a consultant on gender equality issues. The number of projects for women’s advancement had increased. The challenge of identifying best practices remained, however.
She said that, as for shifting the department of women’s affairs to a ministry, in the Austrian Constitution all decisions must be made unanimously. No one ministry was more important than another. There was no formal difference in that regard. Under her Ministry, the women’s affairs department enjoyed the same role and formal position as it would have in any other ministry. It was the duty of Government to stand in the gap for the weak and vulnerable. Because women were often in a weaker position, she was devoted to helping them.
In a closing statement, the Committee Chairperson, AIDA GONZALEZ MARTINEZ (Mexico), applauded the depth of the extensive research that had been done by the Austrian delegation. She also welcomed that country’s ratification of the Optional Protocol and acceptance of the amendment to article 20 of the Convention. Those were fundamental issues to which the Committee attached great importance. She urged the Austrian delegation to pay particular attention as its Government continued to address the “awful scourge” of trafficking in women. She also said that the Committee was very concerned about the protection of migrant women and their access to proper health care.
|* * * * *|