During seven years of social and economic upheaval following Kyrgyzstan's emergence as a sovereign State, the new Government with its age-old nomadic population had been committed to integrating women into national programmes of action, that country's representative told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this morning, as Kyrgyzstan presented its first- ever report on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.
The Chairperson of the State Commission on the Status of Women, Family, and Youth, Sagyn Ismailova, outlined the Government's ambitious plans to improve the status of women amid the country's worsening standard of living. The 23-member expert body that monitors compliance with the Convention was told that any new approach for the Kyrgyz people, with their unique way of looking at the world and living in it, would embrace the pluralism of its society. Now, however, it faced significant changes in the context of East-West relations, and increasing internal problems of poverty, violence, and a return to patriarchal practices.
Despite the Government's stated will to guide its population through the transition, the former Soviet system of health care, education, culture and consumer services had not been satisfactorily replaced, she said. Meanwhile, there had been a dramatic increase in alcoholism and drug addiction over the last five years, further threatening the stability of family life and social development. Equally disturbing were falling birth rates and rising maternal and infant mortality rates, attributable to the sharp deterioration of social and economic conditions.
Following the introduction of the report, Committee members applauded the country's accession to all international women's treaties, during a time of economic difficulty and rapid social and political change. Implementation of those instruments, however, required the retention of positive traditions and the elimination of debilitating stereotypes.
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One expert noted that patriarchal attitudes legitimized by religion or tradition had a way of springing up in times of economic change or crisis. Invariably, those mindsets often curtailed women's rights and freedoms. The return of the Kyrgyz woman to her so-called "proper place" in the home, for example, was a dangerous trend with social and political ramifications, particularly in societies where a strong patriarchal culture had prevailed. The Government needed to be alert to that situation.
The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today, to continue its consideration of the report of Kyrgyzstan.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to begin its consideration of the initial report of Kyrgyzstan (document CEDAW/C/KGZ/1 of 28 August 1998), submitted under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. That article provides for States parties to submit reports on legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures adopted to give effect to the provisions of the Convention. (For background on the session, see Press Release WOM/1076 of 15 January.)
Located in the north-eastern region of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan borders Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and China. The report outlines the situation of citizens, aliens and stateless persons in the country, since its accession to the Convention on 10 February 1997. It also provides information, article by article, on measures undertaken by the Government to fulfil its obligations under the Convention. Efforts to ensure wide public dissemination of the report were initiated during its preparation. The comments of ministries, administrative departments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were taken into account in the final version.
The report observes that during its seven years as a sovereign State, Kyrgyzstan has established itself as a democratic, peace-loving State pursuing its own path of development. On the whole, the population has responded enthusiastically to the social, economic and political reforms of the highly complex transition to independence. Yet, during the period of social transformation, the standard of living has dropped, which has particularly affected the most vulnerable segments of the population, namely the women and children.
The report states that because of the collapse of the Soviet system of health care, education, culture and consumer services and the closure of plants in light industry (cut-backs in the purely feminine spheres of activity), relatively skilled women workers now have to take jobs for unskilled workers, sometimes risking their health. The number of women in small and medium-sized businesses, drug trafficking and prostitution has increased. Women represent 58 per cent of the total number of unemployed persons, and there is a particularly acute shortage of jobs in rural areas.
The report contains a further breakdown of the unemployment rates among Kyrgyz women. For example, they comprise 60 per cent of the unemployed aged 16 to 29, and nearly 67 per cent of them are raising small children. Nineteen per cent of the unemployed women in that age group have five or more children. In addition, the privatization process had not taken women's interests fully into account in the distribution of livestock, land, agricultural inputs and trading posts. Thus, women who do work sometimes do so with equipment that fails to meet safety standards. They also continue to engage in heavy physical labour in industry and in agriculture.
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The report further states that the situation of women in armed conflict and of women refugees and migrants remains critical, and the number of vicious crimes against them is increasing. Incidence of gang rape and rape resulting in severe physical injury or death are on the rise, and women are systematically subjected to assault and battery, humiliation and domestic violence. Rape victims "remain essentially alone with their misfortune", in part, because the Government has not created any institutions to assist them, apart for two crisis centres. Moreover, crimes of violence against women often remain hidden because the victims are reluctant to approach law enforcement agencies.
The demographic situation is characterized by falling birth rates and death rates, as well as a decline in the migratory movement abroad, the report states. The falling birth rate is attributable to the sharp deterioration in the society's social and economic situation which, by reducing the level of family welfare, has had adverse effects on reproductive behaviour. While the number of deaths has decreased in recent years, deaths from diseases such as tuberculosis and ischemic heart disease -- both linked to worsening living conditions -- have increased. A matter of special concern are the high, though stabilized, rates of maternal and infant mortality.
The Government has adopted urgent measures to cope with the dramatic decline in the situation of women during the transitional period, the report states. By Presidential decree, 1996 was proclaimed Women's Year, and in March 1996 a State Commission for Family and Women was created to aid implementation of priority measures to resolve women's most pressing problems. Bodies dealing with family problems operate at all levels and legal reforms have been enacted on the basis of international human rights standards. Regional centres for women's initiatives have been set up in all six regions to facilitate implementation of a national programme called "Ayalzat", modelled on the Beijing Platform for Action.
According to the report, the objectives of the regional centres include the creation of special programmes to support: the girl child; reduction of all forms of violence against women and women and armed conflict; rural women; women's health, including the reduction of maternal and infant mortality; and education and enhancement of functional literacy for women. Intensified women's activism during the transition to democracy has led to the formation of some 70 NGOs focused on women's issues, of which 20 are located in rural areas. They promote the advancement of women, children and the elderly, defend their social rights and ease the transition to a market economy.
The report observes that compared to other Central Asian countries, Kyrgyz women are relatively emancipated, because of the age-old nomadic tradition. Working alongside men, Kyrgyz women were allowed to speak without veiling their faces, live with men in the home, and help hunt for provisions. Yet, their advancement is impeded by stereotypes that promote the notion that high-level jobs are the male domain, and family and household is the female's realm. In
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this transitional period, it is difficult to define a typical Kyrgyz family, and behaviourial models taught in childhood that defy real-life experience are considered to be partly responsible for a rising divorce rate. Although prohibited by law, men sometimes have two or more wives, the report states. This is particularly common among the "new" Kyrgyz, and is accepted by women who are economically dependent. Society is aware of this traditional practice, but remains silent. Under the criminal code, polygamy is punishable by imprisonment of up to two years. The Government recognizes the need to introduce the issue of gender equality into the school curriculums, as well as the need to change stereotypes within the family. In that respect, it acknowledges the need for programmes that provide moral support to Kyrgyz women in their new role.
Introduction of Report
SAGYN ISMAILOVA, Chairperson of the State Commission on the Status of Women, Family, and Youth, introduced the initial report of Kyrgyzstan. This was a time to think about the historic significance of the coming era. Kyrgyzstan had been a country of nomads, who had their own way of looking at the world and living in it. The values of the Kyrgyz people were reflected in a nature- oriented philosophy. Now, however, they were facing significant changes in the context of East and West relations.
In 1991, the multi-ethnic Kyrgyz people had embarked on a course of market transformations, involving both men and women, she said. The female factor in the present situation required a rethinking of various aspects of civilization, with a new approach to women in present society, essential to the country's continuing development. The transition to a market economy was difficult and accompanied by a high level of poverty among women, a high level of infant mortality, an increase in the incidence of violence and discrimination against women, and a decrease in their share of State power at the higher levels.
As a result, the Government had taken a number of concrete measures to ensure gender equality, she said. For example, several laws had been revised, including the labour law, the law on marriage and family, state allowances and benefits to families with children, health care, the civil code and penal legislation. The country had also joined 22 international human rights treaties, and, in January 1996, it had ratified a number of international agreements to eliminate discrimination against women, including the present Convention. To improve national legislation, the State Commission for Family, Youth and Women's Affairs had established an expert gender council. Following its review of various laws, the President's Council on Gender Equality had subsequently been created.
She said that the President's Council was mandated to devise a gender strategy, propose new legislation and make further recommendations aimed at eliminating gender discrimination. It would also study and disseminate the experience of women's NGOs, strive to improve the economic situation of poor and
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deprived women, particularly rural women, and promote women's advancement in the areas of education, job training and employment. Specifically, it would seek increased opportunities for women in business, land ownership, and micro-credit. Overall, it aimed to consolidate women's rights, including their reproductive rights, and promote their productivity as a means to sustain the country's development. Women would be included in the electoral process, and they would be the beneficiaries of programmes, including one aimed at implementing the Beijing Platform for Action.
She said her Government understood the need to intensify women's participation in public life and increase their representation in elective bodies at all levels of decision-making. It would strive to ensure equal participation in all forms of life, including the elaboration of a social orientation policy, which took into account the specific characteristics of the Republic in its transition period. The Government also sought to resolve the country's ecological problems, including those affecting the health of mothers and children. Moreover, its promotion of employment opportunities for women had included measures to eliminate salary discrimination. A social investment programme and programmes to eliminate poverty had been set up, as had small credit and profit programmes.
She drew attention to the three types of women's NGOs in Kyrgyzstan: women's committees with branches in the provinces and contacts with governmental authorities; small, little known organizations working on the "club principle" and located primarily in agricultural areas; and organizations in the professional sector, which included university workers, scientists and entrepreneurs. Those NGOs -- often working in cooperation with the Government - - had been analyzing trends and contributing to the development of a new social order. In addition, 10 crisis centres had opened up throughout the country. All efforts to advance Kyrgyz women had taken into account the pluralism of views present in the Republic.
Turning to article 1 of the Convention, the definition of "discrimination of women", she said the Constitution of Kyrgyzstan prohibited discrimination against women in the political, economic, social, cultural and civil spheres. The Penal Code punished violations of equality based on gender. The Constitution laid down the rights and freedoms of all citizens, which influenced the implementation of laws, the creation of binding legislation, and provided for local self-governing and legal order.
Regarding article 2, legal and administrative measures undertaken to eliminate discrimination, she said that, under the Penal Code, sexual violations, and forcing women to engage in sexual relations were punishable under law.
With reference to article 3, measures to ensure the full development and advancement of women, social support services to the poorest sections of women and social centres had been established, she said. International funds had also
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been used to provide support for the most vulnerable sectors of women, and also to increase the activities and organization of self-employed women.
Turning to article 4, temporary measures that have been effected to accelerate de facto equality between men and women, she said that in the Soviet period there had been quotas for women in the State administrative bodies. Presently, the question of quotas in government bodies was open, with two different viewpoints. While some believed that quotas were necessary because women could not participate without them, others felt that women had a high- enough level of political knowledge to attain high posts and compete with men.
Using women in harmful types of work had been prohibited by the Labour Law of 1998, she said. Also prohibited was the use of pregnant women for night or overtime work. Women were given pregnancy leave consisting of 70 days before delivery, and 56 days afterwards, with an allowance from the State's social security services. Women working in high mountain areas had special conditions regarding pregnancy leave. Also, unemployed women were entitled to receive assistance during their pregnancy period.
Moving on to article 5, social and cultural patterns that lead to discrimination and to stereotyped roles for men and women, she said the advancement of women in Kyrgyzstan was made difficult by well-know stereotypes, such as assigning women to family and child care. In families, husbands were considered the boss and women their helpers. However, the women of Kyrgyzstan were more free than in other Asiatic countries, due to the fact that since ancient times women worked alongside men. Presently, in the educational system, the introduction of subjects and publishing of training books on equality were necessary. Children in the Republic had been subjected to an avalanche of sex and violence through television, magazines and newspapers. It was the duty of parents to ensure a better future for their daughters. There was no discrimination in the country with regard to access to education.
She added that women were now actively participating in democratic reform and resolving social problems. According to the Criminal Code, polygamy, forced marriage and forced cohabitation were punishable by prison terms. Husbands and wives had equal rights in seeking divorce, and, in accordance with the Marital and Family Code, fathers and mothers had equal rights with regard to children. Turning to article 6, suppression of the traffic in and of the exploitation of the prostitution of women, legislation in the Republic allowed criminal liability in cases involving prostitution, she said. Organizing or abetting prostitution was also punishable by fine or prison term, as was the recruitment of individuals for sexual exploitation. With regard to problems with sex tourism, the State's tourist agencies were taking appropriate measures to deal with the issue.
With regard to article 7, elimination of discrimination against women in political and public life, she said Kyrgyz women played a key role in the economy. Men and women had equal voting rights, and any discrimination based on
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sex was prohibited. The Criminal Code punished any hampering of the full enjoyment of electoral rights. Under the Constitution, all citizens had equal rights of access to public services, and freedom in choosing employment. The pyramid of women's employment had to be viewed in the context of existing stereotypes. Most women were engaged in executive and office work at the mid- management level.
Turning to article 8, equal opportunities with men to serve as representatives of government at the international level, Kyrgyz citizens, irrespective of sex, had the opportunity to serve in the diplomatic core, she said. Women were represented in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as in foreign missions. They actively participated in international meetings and conferences, and often headed delegations.
Referring to article 9, equal rights to acquire, change or retain their nationality, according to the Kyrgyz law on citizenship, marriage of Kyrgyz citizen with another national did not lead to a loss of citizenship of either spouse, she said.
Turning to article 10, elimination of discrimination against women in the field of education, she said that the Constitution guaranteed education for all, and there was no discrimination based on sex. Education was a factor which affected the new image of women that was being promulgated. There was no women's illiteracy in Kyrgyzstan. There was a high number of women enrolled in higher educational institutions. The Government, for its part, had established stipends and fellowships for girls from rural families.
Regarding article 11, elimination of discrimination against women in the field of employment, she said the right of every citizen to work was guaranteed in the Constitution. Individuals who faced discrimination had recourse to the courts and, if discrimination had been proven, were entitled to compensation. Pension rights, maternity care and unemployment compensation had also been laid out within the Labour Code. Also, mothers with many children were given special rights. Compensation was also guaranteed for those living in mountain areas for maternal care.
Continuing, she said that women could not be forced to work at night. In addition, the law prohibited forcing expectant mothers to do physical work. With regard to the adoption of children, women were given 100 per cent paid leave up to 170 days for child care. There was a prohibition of any kind of reduction in salary based on sex, race, nationality or age. Salaries in State agencies were determined by a salary scale and other criteria. Job training programmes were provided to unemployed citizens, and men and women had equal access to job training. Fifty per cent of employed refugees in the country were women, and they were given legal protection services.
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Turning to article 12, elimination of discrimination against women in the field of health, she said that the Republic had promulgated a law on the prevention of AIDS in December 1996. Most medical care was paid for through the health care institutions of the Ministry of Health. The Government had established immunization programmes which entitled citizens to free vaccinations. Recently, measures had been taken to foster and improve breast- feeding and to prevent infant diseases. Though legal abortions were allowed in medical institutions, the number of abortions had gone down. Special funds and programmes by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), begun in 1993, had allowed for the spread of contraceptives. A special ministry was looking into the high number of women dying from complications following abortion. In rural areas, there was a network of medical institutions for family planning.
Over the last five years, she continued, the use of alcohol had increased and the number of alcoholics had increased 25 per cent. The State had adopted various programmes for drug addiction, considering that the number of drug addicts had risen 35 per cent. The use of drugs and alcohol by women led to discord between spouses and psychological problems within families. Their children tended to have anti-social behaviour and had difficulty starting their own families and having children. The growth in the demand for narcotics was a serious threat to the Republic, and human resources were needed to address the problem. Problems in equipping the facilities that assisted addicted persons did not allow Kyrgyzstan to properly address the issue.
Turning next to article 13, on elimination of discrimination against women in other areas of economic and social life, the Government had adopted a law of allowances, which had entered into force last year, she said. Of course, those allowances and benefits had been insufficient and had not satisfied the needs of families. The Government had recently introduced provisions aimed at improving accessibility to such benefits. It had also initiated a programme of State awards, such as "mother heroes", which provided humanitarian aid to poor and dissociated families.
On article 14, concerning the problems faced by rural women, she said that women comprised some 36 per cent of the agricultural sector. Today, a great number of rural women were growing and harvesting crops, and participating in activities related to the tobacco industry. Those work activities, however, subjected women of reproductive age to toxins, thus poisoning their systems. As a result, their children were born with problems related to that contamination. Moreover, given severe climate and geographic conditions, their life spans had been reduced, and there was a high rate of child sickness and mortality. The incidence of alcoholism among women was serious and growing.
She noted that through the six regions of the country, women's affairs specialists were working on those problems: women's regional initiative centres had been established and were working on resolving the problems of rural women
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and their families. Marketing schools had sought to increase the role of women in the rural economy. The Ministry of Agriculture and Water Economy was taking measures to ensure the application of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in the rural sector, and the Government had embarked on projects to support those vulnerable sectors of the population. Even the World Bank had carried out a pilot project, aimed at protecting the socially vulnerable sectors.
On article 15, on equality before the law, women had equal rights with men to property under the Marriage and Family Code, she said. Also according to that Code, property acquired by spouses during marriage was held jointly, even when one of the spouses had engaged only in household tasks and did not have any independent income. An analysis of that provision had demonstrated that women had constitutional legal recourse to defence bodies to protect those rights and freedoms.
With regard to article 16, on elimination of discrimination against women within marriage and the family, she said all Kyrgyz citizens had the right to free development, as well as equal access to cultural, and science and art programmes. Since discrimination or obstruction of those rights was illegal, Kyrgyz women were also free to participate in sports, in which they had taken a leading position with positive results.
Regarding family legislation, she said that by the age of 16 a person could acquire full-fledged legal rights and could enter into marriage. Traditional practices regarding the dowry persisted and had been very difficult to change. Those practices were most deeply rooted in the southern regions of the country and in remote rural and mountain regions. Bigamy also occurred at an increasing rate, despite liability under the Criminal Code. Those law had been invoked in recent years, particularly by the "new Kyrgyz" who had enjoyed economic success. The divorce procedure granted equal rights to husbands and wives, but a husband could not begin divorce proceedings during his wife's pregnancy or before a child was more than two years old.
In closing, she said that certain lessons had been learned regarding the implementation of the Convention and of national programmes. That could be achieved only through a comprehensive and systematic approach to the problems in their entirety. Despite some successes, full implementation of the Convention would require a number of further measures beginning at the strategic level. Implementation of the national programme must be vigorously pursued and financed. Moreover, there should be an annual publication containing statistical data according to gender. At the executive level, the Commission on Family Affairs, Women and Youth must be strengthened.
Continuing, she said that partnerships must be developed between the Government and non-governmental organizations at the local level. A number of educational activities had been scheduled in 1999, and the creation of scientific and research centres was being considered. Concerning the problem of
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violence against women, legal sanctions must be ensured and strategic educational plans must be developed in order to restore the dignity of women and young girls and strengthen the social institutions in place to assist them.
General Comments by Experts
AIDA GONZALES (Mexico), Committee Chairperson, expressed her gratitude for the Government's presentation of its report in the allowed time frame. It had also demonstrated the political will to establish a dialogue with the Committee, and had designated a special representative at a high level of Government for that purpose. She asked the representative to convey the Committee's appreciation for its determination to implement the Convention.
An expert expressed admiration for the country's adherence to all women's conventions so soon after gaining its independence. Accession to those treaties had been accomplished against great odds -- at a time of economic difficulty and rapid social and political change. The integration of those international treaties, including the Women's Anti-Discrimination Convention, into national policies was also commendable and set the desired legal basis for implementation. That process, however, needed more than just laws, and the representative had admitted that need. Implementation required the enhancement of positive traditions and the elimination of debilitating stereotypes.
On the country's acknowledgment of that need and its efforts to eliminate discrimination through public education of such critical groups as judges and teachers, she asked if any of those programmes had been carried out? Patriarchal attitudes that legitimized themselves through religion or tradition had a way of springing up in times of economic change or crisis. Invariably, those resulted in curtailing women's rights and freedoms. The return of Kyrgyz women to the home -- which had been referred to as "their proper place" -- was a dangerous trend that had social and political ramifications, particularly in societies where a strong patriarchal culture had prevailed. The Government needed to be alert to that situation.
Another expert commended Kyrgyzstan's ratification without reservations of the Convention. She then asked if the special commission set up to prepare the report was also responsible for implementing the Convention. She expressed deep concern at learning that the lower birth rates were attributable to the sharply deteriorating social and economic situation. Maternal and infant mortality rates were also very high, and the increase in deaths from tuberculosis and other heart diseases was equally disturbing.
It was gratifying, however, that "so early in the day" Kyrgyzstan had sought to put in place the protection of women, she said. Faced with the challenges of transition to a market economy, however, and given the breakdown of some of those services, one needed to question whether those structures were adequate or whether something more was required. The Government should also try to determine how much erosion of the situation of women had taken place.
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Further, the Government had not provided the Committee with enough information on interventions undertaken to respond to the crisis facing women in economic transition.
Another expert agreed that the Government was committed to avoid further "fall backs" of Kyrgyz women, but a source of great concern was the harm being done to families by exacerbated economic and social problems, which had impacted most decidedly on the female population. Approximately 40 percent of families were living below the poverty limits, and women comprised more than half the total unemployed population. Some 61 percent of those unemployed women had a superior education, and 67 percent of them had children to care for. The privatization process had fallen heavily on women. The situation of rural women was particularly worrisome.
The increase in alcoholism and drug addition, the imbalance of families, the impact of divorce and the increase in domestic violence was deeply disturbing to another expert. Those problems seriously threatened the country's social equilibrium, and made it urgent for the Government to take draconic measures to address those problems, such as increasing tariffs on alcohol, and the enactment of a global awareness programme on family issues. In addition, further research should be undertaken to identify the deep, underlying causes before a new approach was elaborated.
Another expert sought clarification on the situation of women in 1991, since the statistical data contained in the report started in 1994. She had found it difficult to grasp the situation, particularly to understand whether any progress had been made regarding the status of women since the country's independence. She also questioned conflicting reports from various sources about the degree of involvement of non-governmental organizations and the United Nations in preparing the report to the Committee. Another expert voiced concern about the absence of detailed information regarding the Government's implementation of its plans.
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