The main obstacle to gender equality in Slovenia was the poor participation of women in the political decision-making process, the Director of that country's National Office for Women's Politics told the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women this morning.
Introducing Slovenia's initial report on implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the head of the country delegation, Vera Kozmik, said the first democratic elections had actually meant a decline in the share of women in political decision-making. Unexpectedly, the latest elections had reduced even further women's representation to its lowest point of only 7 of 90 deputies. Equally unsatisfactory was the 10.8 per cent representation of women on municipal and town councils.
Such poor representation of women was surprising since efforts by the Office for Women's Politics to increase the share of women in politics, according to its Director, had been extensive in the pre-election period. In the general comments on the report, several experts questioned the actual power and status of the Office and requested a more detailed description of its function, funding and position in the government.
Ms. Kozmik acknowledged that the Constitutional principle of equality between men and women was, unfortunately, often reflected by the traditional understanding of human rights as the "rights of man". Women most frequently faced discrimination -- usually hidden -- in the area of employment, because employers expected women to have children which, with laws governing maternity leave and child-care, could mean a year off from work. The State had not been able to prove such discrimination or even detect the problem, which according to unofficial information, was quite widespread.
Some experts stressed that unless conscientious efforts were made by Government on affirmative action, the position of women would not improve.
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Affirmative action programmes were applicable to many fields ranging from health and politics to the problems facing rural women, as well as general consciousness-raising goals. For example, without affirmative action in employment, young women could not get certain jobs, which would in turn reinforce stereotypes in the working world. The issue of action by the Government in the media to change stereotypes of women in society was also raised.
While maternity and child-care leave was granted to either father or mother in Slovenia, despite that right, Ms. Kozmik stressed the proportion of men who used that leave was negligible because the State had not yet overcome the traditional attitude towards the role of the mother and the father in the care and education of children. Other pressing issues were the pending reform of the pension system and shortcomings in reproductive health care, primarily family planning.
Noting the lack of important statistical data in the report, an expert asked for more specific information on increased domestic violence in Slovenia. Was the reported increase in violence against women a result of increased awareness of the phenomena, as had been found in other developed countries? Were key groups, such as the police and judiciary, being given information to help them understand the seriousness of violence against women? experts asked.
Also, as part of this morning's report presentation, the Permanent Representative of Slovenia, Danilo Turk, made a brief introductory statement.
The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to conclude the comments on Slovenia's report. It will also hear reports by the Executive Directors of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on implementation of the Convention.
Committee Work Programme
The initial report of Slovenia on implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (document CEDAW/C/SVN/1) is scheduled this morning to come before the Committee charged with monitoring the treaty.
Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. They are also committed under article 18 of the Convention to submit national reports, one year after becoming a State party and then at least once every four years, on legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviews the report and formulates general recommendations to the States parties on eliminating discrimination against women.
As a newly formed democratic republic, the country's initial report states, Slovenia has seen the establishment of government and civil society committees and organizations whose task is to bring into practice the principle of equality between the sexes. Their formation was made possible through the changes in the political system. For example, the Committee for Women's Politics, founded in 1990, works to encourage the passage of laws which will ensure that women have the possibility to achieve equal status in all spheres of life as well as reaffirm gains already achieved. In addition, the Office for Women's Politics, founded by government decree in 1992, operates as an independent government advisory service. Its main guideline is the realization of the declared equal rights of men and women, as well as creating equal opportunities in all fields.
The report stresses that the fundamental provisions prohibiting any discrimination against women in Slovenia can be found in the Constitution. The Constitutional Court ensures that those fundamental rights and freedoms are exercised in all legislation; a human rights ombudsman ensures that the rights are properly exercised by receiving, investigating and reporting on complaints on the infringement of human rights. Equality is also ensured by legislation. Of particular concern to the Office of Women's Politics has been the growth of domestic violence. In 1993 the Office presented a number of proposals including a fund to redress victims and the establishment of family courts.
While Constitutional protection exists for women's political rights, the report notes that only 13 of the 90 representatives in the National Assembly, one of 40 members elected to the National Council and one of the 15 government ministers are women. Data on the percentage of women in political parties also indicate that women have not yet made their influence felt sufficiently
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in politics. Women comprise only 28.2 per cent of the membership of the strongest parliamentary party and only 26.5 per cent of that party's leadership. Similar disparities exist in the justice system and in local government.
On educational opportunities, the report states that, in addition to Constitutional guarantees of equal and free educational opportunity, the differences between the sexes throughout the school system indicate a kind of positive discrimination towards girls. Girls are more successful in completing primary school and make up over half of those enrolled in the first year of secondary school. Women are also more successful in matriculating for tertiary education courses. The figures on post-graduate and doctoral studies, however, show a significant change in the ratio between men and women -- in 1991, 40.7 per cent of all persons completing post-graduate studies successfully were women. Although the government has emphasized the importance of continuing education, the number of adults participating in such programmes is decreasing with a number of economic obstacles particularly affecting women.
While the economic difficulties have led to an overall decline in employment, equal opportunities for employment and pay are guaranteed by law, the report states. Women also have the legal right to maternity leave and, because of the high-level of employment among women, Slovenia has a well- developed network of all-day child-care institutions. Those equal opportunities extend into farm work as well.
On issues of health care, the report states that the Constitution protects the fundamental freedom of choice in child-bearing. It is one of the few countries that has the right to abortion guaranteed in its Constitution. Compulsory health insurance ensures that women have medical services at their disposal concerning family planning, contraception, pregnancy and birth. While the overall number of abortions has been decreasing since 1982, insufficient use of preventive measures in family planning can be seen from the ratio between births and abortions, where 6 abortions for every 10 births were recorded in 1991. According to that information, over one half of all women who decided to have abortions were not using any kind of contraception. The focus on the health and well-being of pregnant women in the country has led to low maternal and infant mortality rates.
The Constitution also guarantees the equality of both partners in marriage, the report continues. The Law on Marriage and Family Relations protects both partners and gives a detailed definition of such issues as ownership in marriage and protection for children. The law also states that persons under the age of 18 may not marry, except in certain specific and limited circumstances.
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Introduction of Slovenia Report
DANILO TURK, Permanent Representative of Slovenia, began the presentation of the country's report by saying that his Government attached importance to the human rights instruments, particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. In the process of the country's constitution-building and policy-making since 1991, the international human rights instruments had provided a powerful inspiration. He expressed support for the draft optional protocol allowing groups and individuals to petition the Committee.
VERA KOZMIK, Director of the National Office for Women's Politics and head of the delegation of Slovenia, introduced her country's initial report to the Committee. She said the initiative for the establishment of a national gender equality mechanism dated back to the transitional period from socialism to parliamentary democracy, which in Slovenia began in 1989. For many population groups, the social and political changes represented either a challenge -- calling for active intervention -- or the threat that those changes might encroach upon the rights acquired. Women's groups had raised a number of burning issues concerning the status of women and were working on institutionalizing women's policy at the governmental level.
In July 1992, she continued, the Office of Women's Policy was established, which became the central policy-coordinating unit inside the government. Under its founding decree, the Office became responsible for monitoring the status of women and for implementing the rights of women guaranteed by the Constitution, particularly laws and international agreements. It has the authority to participate in the preparation of laws and other legal acts, measures and programmes adopted by the government and to make proposals for measures to be adopted in that area.
She said the lack of statistical and other data and a shortage of relevant research work was a major obstacle in the preparation of the report. She also mentioned the difficulties encountered in the initial stages of independence with the harsh consequences of the former Yugoslavia economic policy. Slovenia, by applying several years of anti-inflation and anti- recession policy, had achieved macroeconomic stability in a short time, along with a stable market economy. Slovenia's gross domestic product (GDP) regained its growth by 1993 and the Government has had a budget surplus. The unemployment rate has even stabilized in the last two years.
While the Constitution defined Slovenia as a democratic republic based on the rule of law, she acknowledged that the principle of equality between men and women was not being implemented in all areas of society to the same extent. There were still areas which reflected the traditional understanding
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of human rights as the "rights of man". Such was the case with women's participation in the exercise of power and decision-making.
Democratic elections and the introduction of parliamentary democracy actually meant a decline in the share of women in political decision-making, she said. Unexpectedly, the latest elections in November 1996 reduced even further women's representation in political decision-making to its lowest point of 8 per cent -- only 7 of 90 deputies were women. Equally unsatisfactory was the representation of women in municipal and town councils where only 10.8 per cent of council members were women. Since the new government has yet to be established, the number of women ministers was still unknown.
Such poor representation of women in political decision-making was surprising since efforts to increase the share of women in politics were in place all along, she said. The Office for Women's Policy was involved with extensive pre-election activities. Some political parties even embraced quotas and nominated a much larger share of women on their party lists. A proposed law to ensure that one third of all party nominees would be women, with an increase in share by 5 per cent every mandate period until equal representation was achieved, was unfortunately rejected by a majority deputy vote.
In spite of the Constitutional and legislative guarantees of equality for women, she stressed the main obstacle to achieving gender equality in Slovenia was the poor participation of women in the political decision-making process. If that shortcoming was to be overcome, effective measures needed to be developed, and the electorate must be kept informed.
Regarding family matters, she said the family structure had by necessity changed. The foundations of family policy were determined by the Resolution on the Foundation of Family Policy which was passed in 1993. The new policy was based on the principles of universality, legal equality of all family forms and respect for the autonomy of the family and its members. The State provided financial support to families in the form of cash benefits for disadvantaged families, child benefits, tax relief and subsidized day care.
A crucial point requiring special consideration was the introduction of a new inter-generational balance between the younger and older generations, she said. At the same time, better conditions for starting a family have to be ensured, since all research revealed worsening conditions for starting a family, including problems of housing and unemployment faced by young people.
She indicated that the education area was better regulated with substantial opportunities for women. Employment, however, was one area where women most frequently faced discrimination -- usually hidden. A high
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proportion of women work full time and women were in the majority of first- time job seekers. Women had difficulties in finding a job, because of the issue of child-bearing. Employers expected women would decide to have children which, with laws governing maternity leave and child care, could mean a year off from work. There were difficulties in proving the violation of non-discriminatory laws protecting women and the State had not been able to detect the problem, which according to unofficial information, was quite widespread.
Currently, she went on to say, reform of the retirement and disability insurance was under way in her country. Growing life expectancy, falling birth rate and the resulting profound changes in the labour market were placing an additional strain on the pension system. Women represented the majority of persons entitled to pensions, as a result of their longer life expectancy. Although women received 87.7 per cent of old-age pensions, they only received 76.2 per cent of the amount granted to men. That difference reflected the different positions men and women had in the labour market; women worked in lower-paid jobs. Frequent sick leave, especially for child care, also affected the salary basis used in pension calculation. The Government would have to take that information into account when devising a new pension system.
Turning to the issue of maternity and child-care leave, she said such leave was granted to either father or mother. Despite that right, the proportion of men who used that leave was negligible because the State had not yet secured a mechanism to overcome the traditional attitude towards the role of the mother and the father in connection with the care of children. The Government had failed to encourage a greater role for men in education and care of children.
In connection with reproductive rights, she mentioned that Slovenia was one of the few countries that had the right to abortion stipulated in the Constitution. Abortion was allowed up to the tenth week of pregnancy, solely at the request of the woman herself. The Constitution guaranteed all persons the right to health care under the conditions prescribed by law. Unfortunately, despite the good legal basis for and access to contraceptive advice, the ratio between the number of planned abortions and number of live births showed that prevention in the area of family planning was unsatisfactory. She said that in spite of the Constitutional right of free choice, abortion was not favoured or recommended as a contraceptive method. In contrast with unsatisfactory preventive care in family planning, there was very good care related to pregnancy and delivery.
She concluded by saying that the transition period and marked success in the democratic consolidation and economic transition had left women on the sidelines. The stereotypes of the roles of women and men, the way political
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institutions operate and the centuries-old balance of power between men and women were the elements that defined the position of women in Slovenia and defined the challenge ahead. Thus, the main priorities of the new national programme to promote gender equality included strengthening national mechanisms; mainstreaming gender equality in all government policies, programmes and measures; increased representation of women in political and social life; raising awareness on gender equality; reconciliation of professional and family life; and prevention of violence against women.
The experts congratulated Slovenia for presenting its initial report in an well organized and timely manner and in keeping with reporting guidelines. They described it as detailed and well structured. Its use of statistics had helped to illustrate the real position of women in Slovenia and permitted a thorough evaluation of their real position.
An expert asked for the number of parliamentary representatives and what percentage of them were women, as well as for details on the structure of the Office of Women's Affairs. She also asked whether the Convention's text had been published and distributed to the public and to women's groups.
Another expert also asked for more information on the Office of Women's Affairs and if it was responsible for coordinating women's affairs.
Noting that human rights violations could be brought before Slovenia's Constitutional Court, an expert wanted to know the outcome of actual cases, particularly on women's rights which had been brought before that court.
Another expert said she missed any references in the report to the general recommendations of the Committee which, she said, were helpful for countries to guide them in implementing the Convention. She hoped that special affirmative action programmes would be put into place to mitigate the negative impact of the transitional period on women.
Comments on Specific Articles
Referring to article 2, on constitutional and legal protections for women's equality, an expert noted the use of a human rights ombudsman and wanted to know more about that person's work and whether the office got general complaints about women's issues and the nature of such complaints.
Continuing, she asked about the relationship of the Constitution to the employment situation. Usually a country's constitution regulates relations between the individual and the State and not between public and private employers, she noted. To what degree did the Slovenian Constitution reach
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into those areas? she asked. She understood that some constitutional clauses defined women mainly in terms of their maternal role rather than as individuals. Did the Constitution refer to men in terms of their paternal roles? she asked.
Regarding the National Office for Women's Politics, the expert asked whether it was attached to the Prime Minister's office; were there any by-laws in the administrative procedures which regulated government ministries; was there a mandate for other government ministries to listen to the Office; could it take legislative initiatives and did other ministries listen to it? She also wanted to know about the Office's staffing and budget, which she said was important to understand its power. Was it the only machinery which governed women's issues? Did other ministries, such as the ministry of labour and the interior also have women's units? Did the head of the Office have direct access to cabinet and, if not, who represented it in cabinet discussions?
The expert then asked if legislation had been reviewed to determine any indirect discrimination. If not, that was a task for women's groups. She also wanted to know if new legislation on family policy and taxes was geared towards women and men as individuals or on their family status. Was there any specific legislation on such issues as employment discrimination other than the rights defined in the Constitution?
Another expert asked how Slovenia's laws were being implemented as recommended in the reporting guidelines.
How did the Office of Women in Politics monitor the status of women, what indicators did it use and how were its policies implemented into government development planning? another expert asked. Had there been any effort to examine whether certain laws still discriminated against women and, if so, what steps were being taken to correct them? Given that the majority of parliamentarians were men, what priority was given in the National Assembly to legislation which affected women. How had the Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) been publicized.
Referring to article 4, on de facto and temporary special measures, an expert said that she was surprised that more positive measures were not being implemented to address the gap between formal and de facto inequality. She asked whether Slovenia was using everything appropriate and helpful in the Convention by publicizing it among the police and disseminating its provisions in a way which was easily understood by both boys and girls in schools. She stressed that in order to gain greater force and security over time, Government agreements had to be translated into law. Was Slovenia planning to do that? she asked.
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Another expert asked for more information about a Constitution provision that stipulates the rights and duties of both parents to bring up and educate children.
A number of experts stressed the importance of article 4 in addressing women's inequalities. One expert said that unless there were conscientious efforts on affirmative action, the position of women would not improve. It was important for countries to take advantage of article 4, especially during times of transition. The Convention was a wonderful tool, and article 4 related to article 2, on legislative and constitutional protection, because special measures could relate to both legislative and other measures.
Affirmative action programmes were applicable in fields ranging from health and politics to the problems facing rural women, as well as general consciousness-raising goals, education and even legislation, she continued, encouraging the Government, when implementing the Beijing Platform for Action, to use affirmative action measures. Did the Government intend to use affirmative action more and if not, why not? What were its goals? Without affirmative action in employment young women could not get certain jobs and that would, in turn, reinforce stereotypes in the working world.
The provisions in article 4 could be very helpful in areas where gender gaps were still apparent, the expert said. For example, in increasing women's participation in politics; equitable representation in child care; encouraging women in non-traditional fields such as engineering, science and technology, where salaries were much higher; and in the protection of motherhood. She said attention must be given to vulnerable groups, such as elderly women who might be protected according to the spirit of article 4.
Concerning article 5, on modification of social and cultural patterns and stereotypes, an expert asked for more statistics and information on domestic violence in Slovenia. Why was it increasing? What action had the Government taken with the media to alter stereotypes of women? Had there been any effective measures to address them? She asked for more information on the operation of the "SOS telephone service".
Referring to the round-table discussions on violence against women organized by the Office for Women's Politics, an expert asked whether any of its proposals had been implemented and had they been evaluated. Was the reported increase in violence against women in Slovenia a result of increased awareness of the phenomena, as had been found in other developed countries? she asked.
The report showed that Slovenia had identified many of the problems and now faced the bigger problem of finding solutions, the expert said. Research in other countries had shown that one way to effectively highlight the problem
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of violence against women was to give information to key groups such as the police and the judiciary. She asked whether the police in Slovenia were being given information to help them understand the seriousness of violence, including sexual violence, its impact on all aspects of women's lives and therefore society in general.
She wanted to know whether, in cases of domestic violence, women could get protection orders. They were particularly important when women needed to continue their contact with partners over such issues as child-rearing. Was the judiciary being made aware of the impact of violence and the real difficulties women faced as victims of violence when giving evidence in court? she asked.
Also on the issue of violence against women, an expert asked if intra- family violence was actually treated as a crime in Slovenia. Regarding sexual abuse against a minor, the expert pointed out that the criminal penalty for the crime described in the report was inadequate.
Another question was posed about the lack of statistical information on sexual abuse and domestic violence. An expert asked for the Government position, particularly of the Office for Women's Politics, on the issue of domestic violence, and what measures were being undertaken to address the problem. Non-governmental organization efforts in that area had been considerable, she added.
The question of stereotypes, according to an expert, was decisive in the advancement of women. Increases in the traditionally unequal division of household labour was an example cited in the report. Were there educational courses provided on family life? What specific measures were being taken to reverse the trend in the sexual division of labour? she asked.
Noting that statistical information on the number of women heading families was also needed, an expert inquired about the assistance given to single mothers. Significant data on sexual harassment was also missing in the report. Were there programmes to raise awareness of sexual harassment, particularly in the justice system? A question was also raised about reports on the growth of pornography and its effect on the stereotyping of women in Slovenia.
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