Governments had to be careful they were not fighting the battles of yesterday with gender equality policies and programmes designed to deal with the problems of the 1970s, an expert from the monitoring body of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women said this afternoon, as the Committee concluded the consideration of Denmark's report.
In future, national politics would matter less than international measures that took into account the private sector because that was where the action was, she continued. She was commenting on Denmark's third periodic report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Another expert said despite many gains, the persistence of traditional attitudes and the absence of women in decision-making positions remained major obstacles. The lack of women in top management positions in the private sector was a particular concern.
Several experts praised Denmark for its in-depth and frank analysis of the situation of Danish women. One expert said the report had been very useful because it dealt progressively with Denmark's compliance with its treaty obligations and was not burdened with a lot of historical data included in previous reports. She suggested other countries follow that formula in preparing their periodic reports.
An expert asked if the reported decrease in cases of rape and incest in Denmark was due to a drop in the actual incidence or in reported cases. In many countries only about 10 per cent of rapes were reported and only 50 per cent of those cases were actually prosecuted in the courts. Often police did not prosecute rape with the same vigour as other crimes of violence and when they did, the penalties were not as heavy. If Denmark had actually achieved a
decline in the incidence of rape and incest then it would have far-reaching ramifications for women and society.
Several experts mentioned the reported "backlash" over affirmative action programmes and the possible removal of quotas to ensure equal participation in political parties. One expert said attitudes could be changed by educating both men and women as well as judges and politicians about their country's treaty obligations. Also, young people often took rights for granted and the pros and cons of implementing certain measures had to be spelled out for them and promoted.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 27 January, to consider the third periodic report of the Philippines.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this afternoon to conclude its consideration of the third periodic report of Denmark on its implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (document CEDAW/C/DEN/3), which the country ratified in 1983.
From a political and legislative point of view, the report stresses there are hardly any obstacles worth mentioning regarding women's equal rights with men. The Constitution contains no provisions dealing specifically with equality of men and women, but it embodies the principle of equal treatment of those two groups of citizens. The process of legislation, beginning in 1976, has seen continuous efforts to enlarge and improve the work on de jure equality between the sexes. Currently there are five parliamentary acts specifically on equality -- acts on equal opportunities, equal pay, equal treatment, equality in appointing members of public committees and in appointing board members of the civil service.
Apart from the relevant legislation, the report states that the most important step towards full equality between men and women has been the adoption of a national policy. It identifies the areas of discrimination as well as strategies to be applied. All ministries, county councils and local authorities are responsible for the fulfilment of the national plan of action and are obliged to report once a year to the Equal Status Council on the implementation and outcome of specific action plans. The Council is thus the initiating and monitoring force in the work of obtaining women's equal rights. In order to modify the social and cultural patterns prohibiting de facto equality in Danish society and to eliminate prejudices and customary practices based on the idea of women's inferiority, the Council and various authorities and organizations have developed priorities which guide the work and form a basis for the necessary strategies.
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 3 - Press Release WOM/943 326th Meeting (PM) 24 January 1997
In the presentation of the report the delegation stressed inequality in the workplace in the public and private sector and efforts to overcome traditional patterns of employment and promotion. The delegation responded in exhaustive detail this morning to a lengthy series of specific questions which had been previously submitted by Committee experts. (For a more detailed background of report, see Press Release WOM/942 of 24 January.)
Continuation of Follow-up Questions
An expert said the report had been very useful because it dealt progressively with Denmark's compliance with its treaty obligations and was not burdened with a lot of historical data included in previous reports. She suggested other countries follow that formula in preparing their periodic reports.
She asked if the reported decrease in cases of rape in Denmark was due to a drop in the actual incidence or in reported cases. In her country, New Zealand, it had been found that only about 10 per cent of rapes were reported and only 50 per cent of those cases were actually prosecuted in the courts. The incidence of rape was very different to reports of rape. In many countries, police did not prosecute rape with the same vigour as other crimes of violence and when they did, the penalties were not as heavy.
There was also a drop in the number of incest cases, she continued. How had Denmark achieved that decline given that incest was a hidden criminal phenomenon in many countries? she asked. Was the problem being discussed and dealt with more openly resulting in fewer cases? She said she realized it might be difficult to supply information and statistics on some of those questions, but if Denmark had actually achieved a lower incidence of rape and incest there could be far-reaching ramifications for other countries. There would be a lower burden of work and costs for police and courts as well as enormous benefits for women and society.
Referring to statements in the report that the burden of proof in cases of sexual harassment fell predominantly on the man rather than the woman, she said that change in normal procedure could be useful for other countries wanting to implement effective measures for dealing with sexual harassment.
Another expert asked if the equality committees and advisers on affirmative action mentioned in the report had numerical targets and timetables. She emphasized that she was not talking about quotas and asked if there were also numerical targets and timetables in programmes to combat unemployment among women. Programmes must have numerical targets in order to evaluate their effectiveness.
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 4 - Press Release WOM/943 326th Meeting (PM) 24 January 1997
She said governments had to be careful they were not fighting the battles of yesterday with policies and programmes designed to deal with the problems of the 1970s. It was important to take into account the impact of globalization and privatization. In future, national politics would become less important than international measures, which must address the situation in the private sector, as that was where the action was.
Another expert referred to the trafficking of young children for commercial sexual exploitation through audiovisual material and asked if there was an awareness of the problem in Denmark and any information on the problem. Given that there was no criminal provision against the trafficking of women, she said too much publicity about sexual tourism and trafficking in women could end up promoting foreign cities which were the centres of the sex industry.
Another expert asked if non-governmental organizations had been given specific responsibilities to combat discrimination against women. Was action planned to overcome traditional male attitudes as reflected in the "boy's club" mentality? Were there any programmes on the problem which could help developing countries? she asked.
Referring to the reported "backlash" over affirmative action programmes and the possibility of gender quotas for political parties being removed, she said attitudes could be changed by educating both men and women as well as judges and politicians about their country's treaty obligations. Also, young people often took rights for granted and the pros and cons of implementing certain measures had to be spelled out for them and promoted.
Another expert asked whether migrant and refugee access to social services was affected by such factors as cultural differences, language difficulties or lack of education. Noting that trafficking in women was not a specific crime in Denmark, she emphasized that developed countries had a moral responsibility not to ignore practices that led to the maltreatment of women in foreign or developing countries. Developed nations should be careful not export deplorable practices to countries where women were particularly vulnerable because of economic difficulties.
Had Denmark made efforts to promote its policy of giving refugee status to women who had suffered because of their gender? an expert asked. Had there been any dialogue between trade unions and entrepreneurial enterprises?
What was the reaction of people in general and women in particular to the reported backlash against affirmative action and was it a trend in the region, another expert asked.
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 5 - Press Release WOM/943 326th Meeting (PM) 24 January 1997
An expert wanted to know if prostitution was more hidden and clandestine in Denmark. She noted innovations in Danish laws governing parental leave and asked for more information in Denmark's next report on the effectiveness of those laws.
An expert, commenting on political equality, asked about the lack of decision-making positions held by women in the economic sector. Successes in the political arena might be transferred into the economic area. Were there associations being formed to deal with the economic sphere? she asked.
Why was there no specific law to punish violence against women? an expert asked. The approach of using preventive information to decrease the level of violence against women was valid. Programmes to give psychological assistance to victims of violence were commendable and innovative. Initiatives to promote parental leave for both men and women were also innovative.
Another expert commended the inclusion of non-governmental organization contributions in the Danish report. The institutional mechanisms in place in the country to pursue the objectives of various policies to advance women's equality were very important.
On trafficking in women, an expert said there were organized crime groups that supported trafficking in women. There were hidden methods of trafficking in women, and the government should examine the phenomenon in more detail.
A comment was made about the invasive nature of reproductive technology practices available in Denmark. How could such invasive procedures be seen as empowering women? an expert asked.
Because Denmark had done so much to pursue the empowerment of women, it was critical for the country to push even harder. In spite of the many gains, the persistence of traditional attitudes and the absence of women in decision- making positions remained major obstacles to the advancement of women. The lack of women in top management positions in the private sector was a matter of particular concern.
An expert pointed out that, while women were taking advantage of educational opportunities on a large scale in developed countries, they were still experiencing greater unemployment. Was Denmark considering ways to promote girls' participation in natural sciences and other studies normally dominated by boys? A query was also raised about educational opportunities for older women who had devoted much time to family and child-rearing.
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 6 - Press Release WOM/943 326th Meeting (PM) 24 January 1997
Progress was still lacking in the area of equal pay, according to a Committee member. Trade unions could perhaps play a greater role in the pursuit of that goal. A union study on the subject in the United States was mentioned as a model.
Experts affirmed the general Committee view that Denmark was a model for the pursuit of women's rights and in the area of development. The backlashes in the affirmative action area and the challenges of overcoming traditional attitudes were areas to be addressed in the next report.
Final Comments by Danish Delegation
The representative of Denmark said the backlash against affirmative action had occurred because young people had said they now want to fight for themselves and make their own individual way. They had not as yet had the experience of confronting obstacles to their advancement.
On the lack of specific domestic violence legislation, she said all forms of violence were treated equally by the law. Because of Committee comments, the Government would examine the issue more closely.
She noted that the Ministries of Finance, Economy and Justice did not have equality committees.
* *** *