Surprised that the Government of Liechtenstein had granted women the right to vote only 15 years ago, expert members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon questioned the strength of women's voice in that country's electoral process.
As the 23-expert body, which monitors compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, continued its consideration of that country's initial report, they urged the Government representative to provide a clearer picture of concrete measures being undertaken to promote the status of women. After all, society could not be changed unless women recognized their public power. One expert asked about the possibility that the princely throne could also be inherited by a female descendant, and not limited to the eldest male child. That would set the right tone for advancing the status of women in Liechtenstein, she said.
Although Liechtenstein had introduced legislation to remedy gender inequality, experts acknowledged that it still confronted a population influenced by centuries-old images of men's and women's roles. In addition to shaping the attitudes of young people, the Government must be careful not to alienate older women who had a crucial role to play in the education of their children and the integration of the economy. Making a real change in the mindset of a population, particularly of women, was needed to see true progress in implementing the women's Convention.
In the area of education, one expert asked about the Government's plans to eliminate patriarchal patterns and sexist stereotypes from school curriculums. Others wondered why girls did not go on to higher education: was that because they were obliged to go abroad to do so, or because of their parents' reluctance to part with their young daughters, or because the Government had not done enough to motivate them? The "gross imbalance" in the
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ratio of women to men in higher education had resulted in a correspondingly low participation of women in senior positions in the workplace -- a trend that would require concrete measures to reverse.
Unless the Government adopted a system of fixed quotas in the workplace, some experts asserted, it would have a long way to go before it could reach its professed goal of having more women in senior positions. Similarly, in a country where women's participation in politics was negligible, a quota system, particularly at the party level, could increase the number of women at decision-making levels. It was also suggested that the active participation of women in the labour force, as well as in education, politics and the more liberal professions, would increase the country's per capita.
Following the experts' comments and questions, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Family Affairs and Equality between Men and Women of Liechtenstein, Andrea Willi, noted their surprise that women in Liechtenstein had only gained the right to vote in 1984. She was not in a position to provide a complete analysis at present, except to reiterate that for a long time her society had been traditional in its thinking. In that context, legislation alone would not sufficiently promote gender equality. For their part, non-governmental organizations had been instrumental in introducing women's rights, particularly their right to vote.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 26 January, to resume its consideration of the initial report of Algeria.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this afternoon to continue posing questions to the Government of Liechtenstein on their initial report (document CEDAW/C/LIE/1), 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.
The report, Liechtenstein's first since it acceded to the Convention in 1995, covers the period up to 31 December 1996. It notes, among other things, that the Constitution of the Principality guarantees a number of fundamental rights, including the right to freedom of domicile and inheritance, personal freedom, and the right of due process before a duly appointed judge. (For further background on the report, see Press Release WOM/1083 issued this morning.)
Comments by Experts on Specific Articles
Turning to article 4, temporary measures to accelerate de facto equality, experts noted the necessity of affirmative action measures for the realization of equality. One expert voiced disappointment at the report, which stated that "inequality of treatment under the law which gives preference to women is no more permissible than negative discrimination against women". In a country where women's participation in politics was negligible, a quota system was necessary, particularly at the party level, to increase the number of women at decision-making levels. Temporary measures were also needed in education, where so many stereotypes existed.
One expert suggested that the Government address the issue of paternal leave, which might lead to shared responsibility of children and home. She also noted that gender equality was not only a question women had to deal with, but one in which men had to involve themselves. Raising women's incomes was also important since a woman was more likely to stay at home if the husband's salary was higher than hers.
Regarding article 5, sex roles and stereotypes, one expert noted that although Liechtenstein had introduced legislation that formed the basis of equality, it still faced a population that had been influenced by traditional images of men's and women's roles over hundreds of years. It was important to undertake the difficult task of promoting new images for men and women, while not alienating those older women who were brought up in a way that had been suitable for their time. She asked what campaigns were being undertaken to win over the older women to changing roles.
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Another expert asked what the Government was going to do to eliminate the patriarchal patterns and sexist stereotypes in educational texts, and what time frames had been established. Making a real change in the mindset of people, particularly women, was needed for true progress in implementing the Convention. Teacher and parent education were crucial in moulding cultural patterns.
One expert was worried about the fact that even though there was equality in law with regard to inheritance, in practice women only inherited about half of what men did. Had there been any court cases by women using the law to complain against such discrimination? she asked.
Turning to article 7, women in political and public life, an expert asked how many women had participated in elections and exercised the hard-won right to vote. Also, the report stated that in the 1997 parliamentary election, women had not gotten the seats they had expected, and that was basically due to the overall image of women. What was the Government's view on the failure of getting women elected? She also asked what specific measures the Equality Bureau had adopted.
Another expert asked what concrete measures had been taken by the Government to increase women's representation in political life, and how successful they had been. Also, had there been any studies to determine how strong a force women had been in voting in the 15 years since they had gotten that right?
Concerning the General Civil Code, an expert asked whether there still existed provisions which discriminated regarding inheritance and the freedom of movement. Also, had there been any attempt to pass an omnibus bill so that any left-over discriminatory provisions might be removed?
Again on the issue of voting, an expert asked to what extent women's organizations were active in providing civil education for women who, until 15 years ago, could not vote. Also, had the Government provided any incentives to organizations to teach women about their civic duties, and was there any recognized gender gap in voting patterns? she asked.
Several experts sought additional information on the discrepancy in the ratio of girls to boys in school. One expert asked about the meaning of the statement that girls had "practically the same" basic education as boys. Another asked about the curriculum review under way, specifically whether it would incorporate civil education, as well as values education, in order to change the traditional image that the young people had of their roles. After all, the curriculum should set the values, so that girls could move forward in tandem with boys. Regarding apprenticeship and on-the-job-training, she asked whether there was a definite programme, in "black and white", aimed at motivating girls to earnestly apply themselves, and to help them understand their value in the workplace.
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Another expert asked how it was possible for the Minister to conclude that the availability of adviser services in the field of education was satisfactory. Many of the women who attended school in Liechtenstein did not get as far as university or technical training. The "gross imbalance" in the ratio of women to men in higher education had resulted in a correspondingly low participation of women in senior positions in the workplace. Specifically, what efforts and measures had the Government undertaken to reverse that trend?
Why did girls not go on to higher education -- was that because they were obliged to go abroad to neighbouring countries, or because their parents were reluctant to part with their young daughters, or because the State had not taken enough measures to stimulate them? another expert asked. Did the Government encourage those women by awarding fellowships or scholarships? As a resident of a developing country, she understood that the most beneficial thing for girls was to attain a higher level of education. Moreover, with the considerable presence of foreigners in Liechtenstein, what was the situation of their children -- did they have the same advantages?
Without gender-sensitivity training of vocational counsellors, another expert noted that women would get little help in choosing the kinds of occupations that would steer them away from stereotypical jobs. Another sought clarification of government efforts to make use of more flexible work hours, in order to make it easier to combine family life with working life. What did those hours really mean and were they applicable to both men and women? If not, then they posed a form of stereotyping. She also sought clarification on the regulations of part-time work, adding that it was illegal for businesses to forbid part-time work for men and allow it for women.
Given the clear work segregation between men and women, did the Minister really think that one country exhibition would motivate girls to expand their vision of potential employment? Other incentives needed to be devised, including, perhaps, special temporary measures. Several experts sought clarification on the laws governing equal pay for equal work, as well as on maternity/employment compensation. There seemed to be a general trend in Liechtenstein to promote women's role in the family over their value as individual members of society.
Another expert suggested that, with the active and productive participation of women in the labour force, as well as in education, politics and the more liberal professions, the country's per capita income would increase. Anywhere in the world, the service sector constituted the backbone of entrepreneurialism. In that context, was there any positive action to provide women with a human resources development programme to strengthen women's role in the service sector, and to help them acquire the necessary knowledge in science and technology, thereby opening up additional market opportunities?
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Turning to women's right to vote, one expert asked if voting was compulsory or optional. What percentage of women voted? she asked, adding that a society could not be changed if women could not realize their role and power through public positions.
Another expert asked for a comprehensive picture of what was being regulated by which legislation. For example, did the Equal Rights Act cover only employment or other areas as well, such as housing? Also, to what extent were sanctions imposed against the "discriminator" and compensation for the victims of discrimination in the employment sector. Moreover, what was the Government planning to do about the burden of proof? If a woman had to carry the burden of proof on her own, it was unlikely that she would get very far in a job discrimination case.
In the area of part-time work, the expert warned that the legislature might have created a situation of unintentional systemic discrimination. Part-time workers must be protected against discrimination in every area of employment, just like full-time workers. Further, unless the Government adopted a system of fixed quotas in the workplace, it would have a long way to go towards reaching its professed goal of having more women in senior positions. The discussion, in most industrialized countries, had moved beyond the issue of equal pay, she said. Countries were now talking about equal pay for work of comparative value. Was her Government taking advantage of the experience of more than 20 years of politicians, legislators and analysts in the United States and Canada, and reflecting that in their legislation?
She noted that Liechtenstein had not ratified any of the conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO). Their substance, for the most part, however, seemed to be covered in the country's new labour legislation, except for one convention concerning workers with family responsibilities. Did Liechtenstein plan to ratify that treaty or include its provisions in pending legislation? She also asked about the tax system, particularly whether it favoured a household where one spouse was not employed, thereby fostering the tradition of women as homemakers.
A number of experts asked about the new social security laws. One said that it was only advisable to move to individual social security once the majority of the female population was employed. With far fewer women employed than men, would individual social security coupled with the rising divorce rate truly guarantee women's economic livelihood in Liechtenstein? And, what about the older generations of women that had not worked outside the home and had not accumulated any value in an individual social security plan? Was child rearing recognized in the social security of women, and how was family work calculated into the system? She said that, in the event of divorce, halving the accumulated social security benefits might lead to the impoverishment of both spouses.
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It was noted with disappointment that the report contained virtually no information on article 12, women and health. Inequalities in health between men and women not only affected their well-being, but also women's active participation in the development of society. It was essential that States improve the situation of women, both physical and mental, since that provided the key in women's participation in an equitable and healthy society, one expert said. Various issues were not addressed under the article on health, such as women's access to family planning, methods of contraception, and legal or religious obstacles to women receiving information on reproductive health. The expert also wanted to know whether abortions were legal and, if so, whether they were covered under regular health-care policies.
Information was also sought by the expert on whether there were programmes in place to increase public awareness of sexually transmitted diseases. She added that the report lacked information on AIDS, substance abuse and the mental health of women, particularly older women. The change from young, active women to older, less active women presented its own challenges, and she wanted to know if there were programmes to address preparing women for the changes and challenges of old age. Also, were young women being equipped to handle caring for aged parents? she asked.
Regarding article 13, women in economic and social life, one expert was surprised that little was said in the report about the rights of women to participate in sports and cultural life. She wanted to know whether women, particulary those who stayed at home, participated in sports. In what areas of cultural life were women known for their outstanding contributions? she asked. Concerning women's rights to get bank loans, she wanted to know what women's options and opportunities to do so were, and whether they had to be actively employed to get mortgages or loans.
An expert who came from a country and region that had a high number of single parent households was interested to know what services were available to single mothers. Regarding those women who had children out of wedlock, she asked whether they were solely responsible for those children or whether there were mechanisms to obtain support from the fathers. The report stated that 24 per cent of those women were unmarried, 29 per cent were separated, and 38 per cent were divorced, which led her to wonder whether there were any measures to help women secure financial support. She also asked about the family allowance provision -- who qualified for it, and was it available only for households with children, or needy households in general?
Turning to article 14, rural women, experts noted that the report contained little information on such women, and were dissatisfied with the brief responses it did contain. Given that Liechtenstein was composed of 11 communes, an expert asked if there were no differences among those areas. Were the levels of education and access to social services equal in the different areas? she asked. If conditions were not the same in all
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11 communes, that meant there were some disadvantaged areas. What might have helped was the use of statistics on the different regions, such as literacy rates, school attendance rates, and information on housing. In the case that there was no discrimination, that also had to be proven with specific data and information. She said she would have been surprised to find that there were no differences in the level of development and distribution of development within the 11 communes.
With regard to article 16, marriage and family, an expert noted that a move from a patriarchal system to a partnership system required the acceptance of equal participation of men and women in the family. Perhaps the attraction of married women to part-time work was due to the fact that household work was still the dominant area for them.
Another expert said the report lacked information on the situation of women with regard to the legal system. She asked whether women had complained about discrimination to the European Court on Human Rights. More information on all laws governing the personal status of women was also requested.
Statement by Liechtenstein
ANDREA WILLI, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Family Affairs and Equality between Men and Women of Liechtenstein, said that, as experts had noted, reporting obligations constituted a heavy burden for many countries, particularly small ones. Regarding the fact that women had only gained the right to vote in 1984, which surprised many experts, she said she was not in a position to provide a complete analysis now, but wished to reiterate that Liechtenstein was a society which, for a long time, had been characterized by traditional thinking. The role of non-governmental organizations had been instrumental in introducing women's rights, particularly their right to vote, she noted. In general, legislation was necessary, but not sufficient to bring about full gender equality.
She expressed surprise that the ratio of children born out of wedlock in Liechtenstein, not unheard of within the European context, had raised so much concern among members of the Committee. Also, although the country was predominantly Catholic, religious affiliation in no way affected who was given the right of residence. Turning to revising the Constitution, while the Landtag was considering measures for that process, a comprehensive revision was not under way at present.
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