16 August 2006

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee Encourages Georgia to Widen Scope of Efforts to Promote Gender Equality

Experts Express Concern Regarding Liberalization of Employment Rules, Lack of State Regulation, Vulnerability of Female Refugees

NEW YORK, 15 August (UN Headquarters) -- With Georgia's Government -- in power less than three years after the Rose Revolution of November 2003 -- reporting that it was devoting renewed attention to gender issues, members of the Committee monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women encouraged the country to widen the scope of its efforts today.

Georgia -- a country with some 4 million people -- was one of two States presenting their reports to the 23 independent experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in parallel meetings today -- a format introduced, for the first time this year, to promote effective time management.

The new Government had introduced substantive reforms to ensure that democratic development was tangible and irreversible, said the Coordinator for Gender Equality Advisory Council under the Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia, Ketevan Makharashvili, who presented the country's report.  The previous Government had undertaken ambitious plans to promote gender equality, but there had been little priority on implementation.  In the past two years, however, Georgia had introduced a new pension law, which equalized the retirement age of men and women at 65 years of age, with optional retirement for women at 60; the human trafficking law; the new Labour Code; and the law on domestic violence.

A State Concept on Gender Equality had been recently adopted by the Parliament, she said.  It recognized the internationally acclaimed principles of gender equality in all spheres of life, and provided the framework for the elimination of discrimination against women.  It called on the Government to take measures, including legislative ones, to achieve gender equality; to integrate gender equality into national strategies; to monitor the action plan to be adopted at the end of this year; and to ensure the effective operation of gender equality machinery in all branches of the Government and at all levels.

While commending the country for its frank presentation and initiatives in the ensuing dialogue, the Members of the Committee posed numerous questions regarding the country's national machinery for the advancement of women, legislation and various aspects of the situation of women, including their access to health services, employment opportunities and family situation.

Expressing surprise at the limited scope of the country's gender strategy, an expert said that, in its present form, it seemed more like a theoretical approach.  In that connection, she stressed the importance of including in it such priorities as violence against women, gender stereotypes, trafficking and the situation of ethnic, rural and internally displaced women.  Another member of the Committee pointed out that, while the report maintained that there were neither direct nor indirect discriminatory provisions in the country's legislation, in practice, many women's rights were violated, for example in the field of employment.  It was not enough to introduce legislation for gender equality -- it was important to ensure de facto equality, as well.

In response to the experts' concern regarding recent liberalization of the country's employment rules, the country representative agreed that the new Labour Code was not gender sensitive.  It had liberalized labour relations between the employer and employee, and State regulation was minimal.  No inspection or monitoring services were provided by the Government.  The Government's priority was to give a serious boost to the economy and attract foreign investment.  Thus, a political decision was made to deregulate the labour legislation, putting aside the gender concerns for now.  "We have to take certain steps today and wait with taking further steps until tomorrow", she said.

Regarding domestic violence -- a topic that, according to the report, is still taboo and perceived widely as a personal family problem -- the country representative emphasized that domestic violence had become a legal term in Georgia only in June this year.  However, a participatory dialogue on the national domestic violence plan, expected to be adopted later this year, had been initiated in the country.  Prior to taking practical steps, it was important to evaluate the scope of the problem and make an assessment of the needs.  Sex-disaggregated data was being collected in Georgia, and police training on domestic violence issues had started.

Among other matters addressed in the debate was the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons, whose number has reached almost 300,000, due to unresolved territorial conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  Acknowledging the Government's commitment to improve the internally displaced persons' living conditions, several experts wondered whether the country's efforts were fully gender-sensitive.  Emphasizing particular vulnerability of female refugees, a member of the Committee took issue with the delegation's position that the situation of internally displaced men and women was equally desperate, and it was morally challenging to start giving attention specifically to women.

Engaging the delegation in a constructive dialogue in Chamber B were experts Rosario Manalo from the Philippines, the Committee Chairperson; Magalys Arocha Dominguez of Cuba; Meriem Belmihoub-Zerdani of Algeria; Mary Shanthi Dairiam of Malaysia; Cees Flinterman of the Netherlands; Naela Gabr of Egypt; Salma Khan of Bangladesh; Tiziana Maiolo of Italy; Pramila Patten of Mauritius; Victoria Popescu of Romania; Maria Regina Tavares da Silva of Portugal; and Heisoo Shin of the Republic of Korea.

The Committee will hold its next meeting in Chamber B at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 16 August, to take up the reports of the Republic of Moldova.


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to take up the combined second and third periodic reports of Georgia.

Georgia's report (document CEDAW/C/GEO/2-3) covers the period from 1999 to 2003.  It was prepared by the Department on Human Rights, Intellectual and Humanitarian Security Issues within Georgia's National Security Council.  The Department is a constitutional consultative body headed by Georgia's President and charged with preparing reports to United Nations human rights treaty bodies since 2000.

The report states that the Georgia National Security Council considered the Committee's recommendations on the presentation of Georgia's initial report in 1999.  Based on those recommendations, a presidential decree was elaborated on measures to strengthen the protection of human rights of women.  By that decree, the States Commission on elaborating State policy for women's advancement would monitor the National Plan of Action for Improving Women's Conditions in Georgia, first for the period of 1998 to 2000, and then for 2001 to 2004.  A national Action Plan for 2000 to 2002 on combating violence against women was also prepared.

To carry out those plans in 1999, the report continues, the Ministry of Justice undertook an analysis of legislation with attention to eliminating both direct and indirect forms of discrimination against women.  The Internal Affairs Ministry collected and analyzed data on the various facets of violence against women.  Other ministries drew up large-scale plans for improving women's economic status and health.  Still, others carried out gender analysis of educational textbooks to eliminate gender stereotypes; ensured a role for women in peacebuilding; developed programmes for refugees and the internally displaced; and elaborated programmes for rural women.  The State Department of Statistics developed statistical data on the gender perspective while compiling its annual report.

For the 2001 to 2004 Plan of Action, the report states that, priorities were to establish institutional mechanisms for raising awareness of gender issues and mainstreaming gender concerns into State policies and legislation.  Emphasis was also placed on enhancing women's participation in decision-making processes and in power structures;  promoting women's economic independence; preventing the spread of poverty; elaborating mechanisms to protect women's rights during conflict and post-conflict periods; improving women's health; and prioritizing protection of women's rights through legislation.

The report also states that a "Women in Development" project implemented from 1997 to 1999 became the "Gender in Development" project from 1999 to 2002, which led to a close collaboration between the Government and women elected to local councils in July 2002.  To support the new network, a cooperative relationship was established between Georgia's State Commission for Women's Advancement, the Swedish Institute for Public Administration and the Non-governmental organization Gender Development Association.  The purpose was to increase gender equality between men and women by enhancing the capacity of governmental institutions to implement the National Plan for Improving Women's Condition in Georgia.  Training sessions were held in Stockholm and Tbilisi on gender mainstreaming.

In 2003, the report continues, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched the Samtskhe-Javakheti Integrated Development Programme with sub-projects that included the Women's Resource and Training Centre.  The immediate objectives were to address regional gender needs for data collection and analysis; raise awareness by addressing gender inequality in the region; strengthen local capacity; support and empower women for active roles in development; and, provide training and economic opportunities for women.  UNDP chairs the United Nations gender-theme group consisting of agency representatives who meet regularly to coordinate and plan.

Regarding the institutional framework for action, the report states that the Commission for Women's Advancement is the main coordinating body for the Government's gender policy, and the National Plan of Action is the key instrument.  The Commission is headed by a woman and operates in close contact with ministries where gender focal points ensure smooth functioning.  A monitoring body has also been established.

The proliferation of non-governmental organizations dealing with gender issues attests to the increasing public interest in the issue, the report continues.  More than 60 women's groups are involved with women's roles in democratization and the formation of civil society during the transition period.  Among the bodies dealing with women's rights is a special commissioner within the Office of Public Defender (Ombudsman) and a special subcommittee to elaborate laws related to gender.

Introduction of Report

KETEVAN MAKHARASHVILI, Member of Parliament and Coordinator for the Gender Equality Advisory Council under the Speaker, introduced the report.  Also, part of the Georgia delegation was Vakhtang Balavadze, Member of the Parliament.

Ms. Makharashvili said the State Commission on the Elaboration of the State Policy for the Advancement of Women, which had prepared the report to the Committee, had ceased to exist after the Rose Revolution of November 2003.  The new Government had made substantive reforms to ensure that democratic development was tangible and irreversible.  Visible and sustainable improvements had been made in the areas of defence, law enforcement, energy, security and education.  Economic reforms took longer to take effect and Georgia's integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures was a priority.

She said the most painful and hindering issues for development were the unresolved territorial conflicts in Abkhazeti and South Ossetia, which had displaced nearly 300,000 Georgians.  The social security was most affected and the political challenge to resettlement was extremely sensitive.  Resolution of those conflicts through peaceful means was a priority, and international support played a vital role.

Along with other reforms, she continued, the issues involved in gender equality had been brought up to the national level.  Two national mechanisms had been created.  The Gender Equality Advisory Council under the Speaker of Parliament had been created in 2004 and was made up of Parliament Members, Government representatives and civil society.  The Council's mandate was to analyze existing legislation, draft laws and prepare the State policy document on gender equality.  The Government Commission on Gender Equality had been created in 2005 with a one-year mandate to draft the National Action Plan for strengthening gender equality.

Those two mechanisms had brought about important achievements for gender equality in Georgia, she went on.  The 2005 Law on State Pensions had equalized the retirement age for men and women at 65, with optional retirement for women at 60.  The 2006 Law on Fighting Human Trafficking had broadened the scope of the 2001 law criminalizing the activity.  Corresponding laws in the criminal codes had been updated in line with a national Action Plan.  The 2006 Labour Code had liberalized work relations and set standards on practices such as work week length and overtime.  A 2006 Law on Elimination of Domestic Violence and Assistance to Victims had set the framework for new mechanisms of protection such as restraining orders, social services and shelters.  A national Action Plan on the matter would be developed by year's end.

Finally, she said a State Concept on Gender Equality had been developed and adopted by Parliament.  It recognized the internationally acclaimed principles of gender equality in all spheres of life and, provided the framework for implementing measures to prevent and eliminate all forms of discrimination based on sex and for the pursuit of gender equality.  It called on the Government to take measures, including legislative ones, to achieve gender equality; to integrate gender equality into strategies; to monitor the Action Plan; and to ensure the effective operation of gender equality machinery in all branches of the Government and, at both the central and local levels.

Interactive Dialogue

In accordance with the Committee's usual practice, the experts began their dialogue with the country's delegation on issues covered by articles 1 through 6 of the Convention relating to discrimination; policy measures; guarantees of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms; special measures, sexual stereotypes and prejudice; and prostitution.  The members of the Committee encouraged the Government to energetically continue its efforts to implement the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and focus on Georgia's laws for the promotion of women's rights, the status of the Convention in the country's legislation and Georgia's national machinery for the advancement of women.

An expert recalled that according to the report, following a gender analysis of all the country's laws, the Ministry of Justice had concluded that there were neither direct nor indirect discriminatory provisions in the law.  However, in practice, many of women's rights were violated, for example in the field of employment.  It was not enough to introduce legislation for gender equality -- it was also important to ensure equality in practice.  How was the Government planning to achieve de facto gender equality?  Also, now that the gender equality strategy had been adopted, given the lack of political will and resources in the past, how would it be implemented?

An expert said that, he was saddened that the Women's Convention had not been referred to in any particular court case in Georgia, and wondered if that was due to the ignorance about that instrument.  What kind of measures had been taken to make the Convention and its Optional Protocol known to the population of Georgia?

Another member of the Committee asked for further clarifications regarding the situation of minorities in Georgia, saying that the answer provided in the documentation before the Committee only said that there was no discrimination.  In that connection, she also drew attention to paragraph 42 of the report, according to which the plan for the protection of human rights of minorities included provisions for a revision of an article of the Constitution "in order to ensure a separate statute on women's rights and gender equality".  While such an amendment had not been adopted, she was surprised at the distorted view of society, under which women could be considered a marginal group, a minority.  She was glad that that was not the concept of society, according to Georgia's responses.

On the national gender equality strategy, she said that it seemed more like a theoretical approach than a strategy.  There was no reference to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women -- an important tool, which could guide the country's efforts in the future.  Expressing surprise at the limited scope of the main directions of the strategy, she stressed the importance of including in it such priorities as violence against women, gender stereotypes, trafficking in women and the situation of ethnic, rural and internally displaced women.  Did Georgia intend to establish clear benchmarks for the implementation of its plans?

Several experts also addressed the situation of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons in the country.  Acknowledging the Government's commitment to adopt a national strategy for internally displaced persons and improve their living conditions, they enquired whether that strategy was fully gender-sensitive.  A member of the Committee noted that women comprised 55 per cent of the displaced population, and wondered if the Government's efforts took into account the specific needs of female refugees and internally displaced persons and their vulnerable situation.

Responding to those questions and comments, Ms. MAKHARASHVILI said that, within the country's legal system, the Constitution of Georgia took precedence over any legal act adopted by the Government, including international conventions.  However, there were no articles of the national legislation that were in conflict with international standards.  Should some conflicting norms be discovered, a judgment on the matter would be made by the constitutional court.  Amendments could also come from the Government.

As for the lack of specific cases under the Convention, she agreed that the lack of knowledge was a contributing factor.  The Convention was not a well-known document in Georgia, but, its concept was part of the national strategy.  The second part -- to be adopted in about six months -- would be a detailed national plan.  The reason that the adoption of the concept took a long time was the need for the Government to agree to start providing budgetary resources for gender equality activities.  Once that had been done, the concept paper had been adopted.

While it was true that the implementation of the Convention and its Optional Protocol in Georgia "could use more effort", she said it was necessary to take into account that the current Government had been in power for only two years and, there had been a large turnover in the Government and the Parliament.  The Government's renewed attention, energy and enthusiasm might look like a step back to some, but in fact, the Government was taking small steps forward.  The previous Government had undertaken ambitious plans, but, there had been little priority on implementation.  Much money had been spent on publications and awareness programmes, for example, but with little priority on behalf of the Government, those publications often remained in the trash cans.

Regarding internally displaced women -- a painful issue for the Government -- she said that the territorial integrity of the country was a number one priority.  It was very difficult to start reform when you "had to start it everywhere".  Wherever the Government turned, the situation had been deteriorating, particularly during President Shevardnadze's second term in office.  If the Government could not uphold its social security obligations to the extent it would like to, with the pension level at $20, how could it start distinguishing between men and women?  Unfortunately, the reform was progressing slowly, and efforts were being made to focus on the most practical measures.  The situations of internally displaced men and women were equally desperate, and it was morally challenging to start giving attention specifically to women.  At this time, the Government was not pushing very hard to separate the rights of female internally displaced persons, putting them under better conditions.

As for the de jure versus de facto equality, the Parliament was now trying "to straighten out" the legal basis, putting in place important laws for the advancement of women.  Right now, work was continuing on the National Action Plan.  The Government was seeking to have a short, but realistic list of items that could be implemented.  When the Government had the ability to add items to the plan, it would certainly do so.

She said the preparation of the Gender Equality Position Paper and the National Action Plan on gender equality had both been highly participatory processes, in which sustainability had been a priority as the country continued to undergo changes.  The identities of the next Members of Parliament could not be predicted, but, the mechanism for gender equality would still be in effect.  The support of the international community was of paramount importance.

Women were a majority of the world population and their equality was not a minority issue.  Within Georgia, minority women were not treated any worse than the majority, although, the predominance and endurance of tradition was more pronounced among Muslim women than in the general Georgian population.  The Gender Council had visited Sweden last year, and had observed that the Gender Ministry appointment rotated through the other ministries, which seemed a desirable model for Georgia to integrate gender issues into other ministries.

She said the gender position paper mentioned the Convention on the first page.  And, while the right to vote was a constitutional guarantee, the Government needed to do more to encourage participation of women in the electoral process.

Political Participation, Measures To Be Taken

Experts posed questions about temporary and special measures, and on implementation of the State gender equality concept.  What special measures would be elaborated?  What areas had been identified for special measures?  What steps would be taken to monitor implementation?  What were the chances of a full-fledged ministry for gender equality?  More data was needed.

More data was also needed on domestic violence, the experts continued.  Why was domestic violence still a taboo subject?  How many women were affected?  What was the attitude of law enforcement?  Was trafficking considered a problem of prostitution or was it related to other matters?  Had arrangements been made with neighbours to combat trafficking?  Also, were public awareness campaigns being carried out to combat male and female stereotyping?

An expert asked for clarification on the mechanisms for lodging complaints.  Another pointed out that, in spite of the difficulties faced by Georgia, internally displaced persons faced special threats and the Government had to address that situation.

Ms. MAKHARASHVILI said that the concept paper on gender equality had been adopted by the Government less than a month ago.  So far, that was the only document that introduced the notion of temporary special measures in Georgia.  The Government would base its future work on the matter of the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  At this point, she could not say what shape those measures would take in the future.  Work was also continuing on the National Action Plan.  As soon as the country adopted that document at the end of the year, it would be forwarded to the Committee.

On violence against women, she said that, while the subject had traditionally been taboo, a dialogue on the matter had been initiated in the country.  A public awareness campaign was being planned by the Government.  In particular, it was necessary to raise awareness of such aspects as psychological violence against women.  As for the 2008 implementation of the budgetary part of the Domestic Violence Law, it was necessary to take into consideration that domestic violence had become a legal term in Georgia only in June 2006.  Prior to taking practical steps, it was important to evaluate the scope of the problem and make an assessment of the needs.  Sex disaggregated data was being collected in Georgia, and police training on domestic violence issues had started.  The country's Constitution did not provide for special family courts, determining that the specialization should only include civil, administrative and criminal courts.  Under those circumstances, the Government had opted for administrative courts to handle domestic violence cases.

Marital rape was an issue that presented most difficulties for women to come out as it was the most tabooed issue of all, she added.  That was a stereotype that the Government would really have to work on.  However, that taboo was limited to the rape between the spouses.  Children's lives were usually more valued by mothers than their own, and any sexual abuse of children was handled promptly.

Trafficking Law was not specifically linked to prostitution, she said.  It applied to any human being, regardless of gender or age.  For a long time, the main issue in that regard was transit trafficking, and Georgia was working with neighbouring countries to address the situation.  Trafficking had been criminalized several years ago, and statistics were now being collected on its incidence.

Regarding the country's education reform, she said that it started with elementary schools and concerned all levels of education, up to universities and the Academy of Sciences.  There was some resistance to the reform, and even to get the political support to start eliminating gender stereotypes in elementary school textbooks was a big accomplishment.  As the reform proceeded, the Government would actively work on breaking gender stereotypes through education.

As for the role of the media, she said that it was not interested in promoting gender equality.  The resistance to the issue was so strong that it became scandalous at times.  Efforts were being made to explain the importance of its role to the media, but, it was difficult to get their interest.  The Government intended to sponsor public awareness programmes in that regard.

Fully understanding the importance of changing the mentality, the Government also realized that it was difficult to change the way of thinking of the older generation, she continued.  For that reason, it was particularly important to focus on the younger generation.  At several State universities, there were lectures on gender equality, and she was pleased that the students were responding positively to them.

In a number of follow-up interventions, the experts wondered about the legal status of the gender equality concept, and asked questions regarding the country's gender machinery for the advancement of women, including its staffing, resources and mandates.  A member of the Committee stressed the importance of maintaining a holistic approach to gender issues as far as national machinery was concerned, and emphasized the need to put in place stable, standing national institutions with their own staffing.  Only then, would those entities have accountability, authority and visibility.  It was up to such machinery to monitor the implementation of gender equality goals.

A Georgia delegate said that both the Council and Commission were legal bodies.  When the status of the body concerning gender equality was under consideration, the view was that a Committee could not be formed at present, and the Council had been set up to operate under the aegis of the Parliamentary Speaker.  The former Government had envisioned the central gender equality mechanism to be at the ministry level.  As for the present Commission, its one-year mandate had expired and was to be renewed.

The brief concept paper provided a basis for going forward on gender equality and its significance was demonstrated by the fact that the Government so far had adopted only two concept papers, one on national security and the other on gender equality.  The paper on gender equality committed the Government to developing a national action plan, the delegate said.  And, while a ministry was desirable, the issue of gender equality in Georgia received a lot of support because the strategy was to ask for small specific steps that were realistic and able to be implemented.

Experts then probed areas related to the underrepresentation of women at the middle levels of elected office.  One pointed out that, equal opportunity referred not only to the number of positions held, but, also to the creation of conditions conducive to achieving a position.  The 2007 report should provide participation data on women in rural areas of all regions, another expert said while another questioned still the resistance to quotas as a special measure for increasing the involvement of women in political activities.  Was the resistance related to life under the former soviet system?  Why was there satisfaction with only 36 per cent of Georgia's diplomats being women?  Why wasn't there equality in marriage with regard to careers?

Georgia's representative said she'd been working very hard with women's groups and political parties to get women to be more active, to get them to ask for positions of authority, to take on responsibilities and to ask for support in getting elected.  Right now, merit was the only consideration on the table when a woman's candidacy was considered while men had more criteria.  Quotas were not in the foreseeable future because there was a bias that they contributed to the perception that women needed favours to get elected.   The 30 per cent involvement number had been set as a benchmark minimum when gender equality was first under consideration.  Now, the number made it difficult to push toward the 50 per cent since the attitude was that there should be satisfaction with the progress made.  But, there was room for improvement in women's representation, particularly in issues involving territorial talks and national sovereignty, which took place at the highest levels.

The stereotype that politics was "man's work" was still strong, she said, particularly in rural areas.  Some women candidates had removed their names from ballots after being intimidated or threatened away from running by men through pressure on their husbands.  Proportionately, there were more women at higher levels of Parliament than elsewhere, and Parliament was a good place to institute change or bring about action.  In the present Government, five women had held ministerial positions, and now, only one remained.

As a follow-up, an expert agreed that quotas could carry a negative stigma.  But, she said Georgia should not give up on innovative measures to accelerate the broader participation of women in the political sphere.

Women's Education, Employment

An expert commended Georgia's impressive achievements in the field of education over time, and noted the ongoing reform of the educational system there.  However, the report demonstrated that female students still tended to choose the courses that were traditionally identified as "women's" field of study.  What was being done to address that situation?  Also, with women comprising the majority at several levels of education, why was it so difficult to eliminate sexual stereotypes in textbooks, as the country's delegation had indicated?

Several experts also posed questions regarding the country's new Labour Code, which attempted to "set minimal standards", including parental leave, number of working hours per week, overtime work and so on, according to today's introduction.  In this connection, an expert cautioned against excessive liberalization of the labour market, which had had disastrous consequences for women working in the informal sector in several Latin American countries.  With some extremely disadvantaged sectors of population requiring protection, she wondered how they were going to be affected by Georgia's new Labour Code.

The Government itself had acknowledged that it did not know the current trends in the labour market, which made planning difficult, another expert said.  Under the Convention, the State had a responsibility to ensure equality in the field of employment, but, if it did not know the situation, how was it going to do that?

A member of the Committee also noted that occupational segregation had been identified as a problem in Georgia.  Women were often better educated than men, but, found themselves in lower-paying jobs.  She wanted to know about incentives given to girls to go into traditionally male areas of employment, as well as the Government's efforts to establish the minimum wage and eliminate the salary gap.

Questions were also posed regarding the time frame for the education reform; the distribution of students and teachers at various educational institutions; the situation of women in the informal sector; and the measures to address sexual harassment, promote private enterprises and provide opportunities for women.

Responding, Georgia's delegate said the work on addressing stereotyping in textbooks had come from non-governmental organizations.  The educational sector had not seriously taken up the matter.  Reissuing textbooks was time consuming, and the upgrade would be performed one year at a time.

She said women chose to take jobs in the informal sector because the jobs had shorter working hours.  Women were, however, entering professions such as architecture and jurisprudence.  They tended not to be attracted to heavy labour jobs such as construction.  There was a shortage of technical professionals such as engineers, and a campaign would be undertaken to recruit young women into those fields.  Government grants for scholarships were awarded to the top 40,000 or so students every year.

She said the debate had been contentious over how the new Labour Code should look, particularly over the issues of work-week length, and relations between employer and employee.  Experience in Latin America had shown that liberalizing the Code could negatively impact on the gender ratio.  Except for the Code, the Government no longer interfered in private sector labour relations in Georgia.  For example, there were no more labour inspectors.  There were no sexual harassment clauses in the legislation, and none were expected in the near future.  About 60 per cent of the work force was self-employed and about two-thirds of those were men.  About 25 per cent of small enterprises were owned by women, but they reported having difficulty attracting investors.  A project was being developed to provide assistance in the form of grants and microfinance to small business owners.  A retraining project was also being designed with the Government focusing on raising money to fund the initiative.

Health, Rural Women

An expert noted that the report indicated that universal access to health care was very far away.  What was the allocation for health services and, how much was actually released?  Was the HIV/AIDS programme a high priority or was it donor driven?  How would the health service be improved and made more gender-sensitive?  She also asked for clarification concerning the high abortion rate.

Another expert noted that the Convention required serious commitments by the Government concerning women, particularly those who had suffered most during the transitions from one system to another.  They included women who were poor, elderly or residents of rural area.  What would the Government do to help them?

In response to those queries, Ms MAKHARASHVILI admitted that health care issues were not something she specialized in.  Unfortunately, an expert in that area had been unable to join the delegation.  Health services were the priority of the ongoing health care reform.  The Government had been making efforts to improve the infrastructure and increase salaries for doctors and nurses, aiming at universal access.  HIV funding levels were mostly donor-driven, and she was sure those programmes had been evaluated.  As for abortion, the rates had decreased.

Regarding the Labour Code, she said it was not gender sensitive.  It had liberalized the labour relations between the employer and employee, and State regulation was minimal.  There was no inspection or monitoring services at present; however, this was not a final Labour Code.  Now, the priority was to give a serious boost to the country's economy and attract foreign investment.  Thus, a political decision had been made to deregulate the labour legislation and postpone the gender concerns for now.  "We have to take certain steps today and wait with taking further steps tomorrow," she said.

Regarding the situation of rural women, she added while there was no special programme to meet their needs, several microcredit programmes were in place in the country.

In several follow-up interventions, members of the Committee posed questions about the complaint mechanism under the new Labour Code, assistance programmes for the vulnerable groups of population, and women's awareness of existing legislation.  Was legal assistance available to women?  An expert expressed hope that in the future, women would find themselves in a better situation as far as protection under the Labour Code and access to credit were concerned.

To a question regarding the rationale for abolishing the Inspectorate, the country representative said that it had been one of the sources of corruption and represented a burden on the budget.  It had never supported any labour complaints or disputes.  In a word, it was useless.

Regarding legal protection, she said that several court cases had been won by pregnant women and women on maternal leave, because under the labour legislation, they could not be fired.  As for credits, they were provided by private banks, which determined the credit criteria in the country.  No credits were provided by the Government.  According to statistics, women represented a large number of borrowers, however, as the figures of the loans grew, men increasingly became the signatories of the loans.  While she could not promise that in a year's time the country's new Labour Code would become more gender-sensitive, she hoped that some amendments would be made in the future.

Family, Marriage

Experts asked about the exceptional cases where 16-year-olds could marry.  What was being done about the illegal but, still ongoing custom of abducting women as brides?  What actions were being taken to modify the stereotyped roles in marriage?  Also, what was the status of divorced women?  What about the rights of women and children in Muslim marriages?  Questions about citizenship were also posed.

The country representative said that in cases of abduction for the purposes of marriage, with the bride below 18 but, above 16 with parental consent, the State had recognized the marriage.  Other special circumstances concerned kids who eloped, again with parental consent.  With regard to spousal responsibilities concerning children, the stereotype still existed but, conditions were becoming more equal with the younger generation's contact with global counterparts through media, education and travel.  Girls were more eager for equality at home, and boys were accepting of the change.

 She said another stereotype concerning women as better parents than men was supported by courts awarding custody of children to women more often than men.  Marriages could not be registered until the age of 16 was reached.  Divorce was wholly equal between the two parties.  Dual citizenship was allowed by presidential decree.

Following-up, an expert noted that polygamy was allowed in Georgia for Muslims.  Was there a special family code for Muslims or just one family code for all?

Clarifying, the country representative said polygamy was not allowed in Georgia.  Monogamy was strictly followed and, no person could marry more than one person.

On follow-up to all the issues covered by the Convention, an expert noted again that more data collection needed to be conducted on many new areas, including the introduction of a gender perspective into present data gathering.  For example, how much time did men and women respectively expend in housework and child care?  How would that gender perspective be insured?  Another expert asked about financial support for the gender equality mechanisms, and another suggested that Parliament stick to making laws and leave implementation of the National Plan up to the Government instead of Parliament trying to do everything on gender equality.

On data collection, Georgia's delegate said the new approach reflecting gender sensitivity was expected to be in place by January.  Funding for the national machinery to support gender equality was already included in the budget should the action plan be adopted in September as expected.  With regard to laws and implementation of the Convention, the process was complex since some of the Convention's provisions needed to be included in legislation prior to implementation.

Asked about the legal recourse for women under the optional protocol, the delegate said the constitutional court was the only body that could instruct Parliament to amend the law.  If a law was discriminatory or an amendment was required for compliance with an international treaty, the constitutional court or a presidential act would be invoked.  And of course the Committee provided recourse for women under the Optional Protocol.

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