While the Government of Greece had spearheaded an advanced legislative framework designed to protect women from traditional discriminatory practices and modern-day problems of unemployment and under-representation, Greek women were still plagued by gender-based violence, illiteracy, and an uncertain economic future, members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women said this afternoon, as they concluded their consideration of that country's latest periodic reports on compliance with the women's Convention.
The 23-member expert body that monitors compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women suggested that women in Greece, as elsewhere, were paying the price for the economic crisis. Although numerous mechanisms to protect them had been introduced, their goals had not yet been achieved, thereby signalling the need for more focused attention. One expert said that the vast array of laws had fallen short of penetrating the country's psyche, but agreed that they were a step in the right direction. Particularly impressive were attempts to integrate women into all spheres of development.
Challenging the progressive nature of the new legislation were such issues as a high rate of illiteracy among both young and old women in the mountains and bordering regions of the country, and the recourse to abortion as family planning, one expert said. Women must be made aware of the physical and mental consequences of repeated abortions. Women were not using contraception, although the options were well-known in Greece. As a result, the use of abortion as family planning was very, very high. The involvement of male partners in family planning could help reduce the abortion rate.
Another expert expressed concern that marital rape was simply perceived as indecent assault. "Rape is rape", she said, "whether it takes place within a marriage or outside of it." Thus, it must be treated as a human rights
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violation and not merely as an indecent assault. Also of concern was the fact that psychological violence did not constitute an offence. Indeed, that brand of behaviour could be even more harmful than physical violence. Greek authorities should read the 1993 United Nations Declaration on Violence against Women, as well as the Committee's general recommendation on that subject.
A representative of Greece and President of the Hellenic Research Centre on Women's Issues, Antigoni Karali-Dimitriadi, agreed that "rape is rape" -- whether or not it occurred in a marriage. Indeed, the General Secretariat for Equality of the Two Sexes had formed a committee to consider legislating punishment of marital rape. She was confident that by the time her country presented its next report to the Committee -- by the year 2000 -- that legislation would be in place. Additional legislation would hopefully curb the high incidence of abortion. Presently, a dual approach to health concerns was being taken: coordination of the relevant government ministries and a strategic public campaign to inform women through the media.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 29 January, to consider the combined second and third periodic reports of Thailand.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this afternoon to continue its consideration of the combined second and third periodic reports of Greece (document CEDAW/C/GRC/2-3), 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, which Greece ratified in 1983.
The report, covering the period from 1986 to 1994, includes information on the condition of women in all sectors of social life, and progress made during this period. It also provides the targets of the policy for equality for the future. A national committee, with the participation of representatives of the social and political life of the country, was established for the preparation of the report. It functioned in cooperation with all ministries, public and private bodies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and with the supervision of the General Secretariat for Equality of the Two Sexes, which submitted Greece's initial report. (For further background, see Press Release WOM/1088 issued this morning.)
Comments by Experts
Several experts thanked the Greek delegation for providing a broad range of information in an interesting and open manner. One expert said that in order to measure the progress achieved thus far, it was important to know more about the starting point for women's advancement in Greece. The Government had introduced a series of progressive measures which protected women and advanced their equal status. Indeed, much progress had been made towards updating the family law, reflective of the country's deep-rooted male attitudes. Only a few years ago, the dowry had been in place; now today, women were entitled to seek a divorce and alimony was assured them.
Greece, as well as the rest of Europe and the world, was in a very difficult period, especially economically, she said. Unfortunately, it was the women who were paying the largest price for the economic crisis touching Greece, and elsewhere. While the Government had put many mechanisms in place to defend women from unemployment, the goals had not yet been achieved, signalling the need for much more attention. The vast array of laws aimed at protecting women stopped short of actually penetrating the country's psyche, as was the case in most Mediterranean countries. She sought more information about immigrant women, particularly how the authorities were handling the influx of Albanians and others from third world countries.
She suggested the focus also be placed on the high rate of illiteracy, especially among young women in mountains and bordering regions, and the nation's elderly women. On the question of abortion, traditional attitudes
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had prevailed, even among women. While contraceptives were well-known, Greek women were not using them. The recourse to abortion was very, very high, as was the number of divorces: one in three women in Athens, for example. How was the Government planning to deal with those issues? she asked. Hopefully, the Committee would enjoy a much improved picture of women in Greece, including their presence in decision-making positions.
Another expert expressed concern that marital rape could be handled as indecent assault. "Rape is rape", she said, "whether it takes place within a marriage or outside of it." Thus, it must be treated as a violation of human rights and not merely as indecent assault. The Greek authorities were urged to take a second look at that issue. In addition, the fact that psychological violence did not constitute an offence was indeed another concern, because that brand of violence could be more harmful than physical violence; it could keep a woman in mental hospitals for the rest of her life. She suggested that the representatives read the Committee's general recommendation 19, as well as the 1993 United Nations Declaration of Violence against Women.
Adding to her colleague's comments about the abortion issue, she added that women must be made aware of the consequences of repeated abortions, both physical and mental, and also made aware that abortion was not another form of family planning. The country report had created that impression, since women were having abortions at a very high rate, while refusing to use contraceptives. The male partners should also become involved in family planning, as another way to help reduce the frequency of abortion. Also disturbing was the comment that private clinic abortion had contributed to the high rate of illegal abortions. That kind of thinking seemed to stigmatize private practitioners.
She said the Secretary-General for equal rights had been playing a very important role, and links between the Government and the NGO were also very useful. The repeal of a law mandating women's participation in the public sector, on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, should be reconsidered. Indeed, that law had endeavoured to encourage women's participation in the administrative field. The elimination of the provincial committees on equality was also questionable. Both had been important instruments, and consideration should be given to their re-establishment.
Another expert she was impressed that Greece had one of the more advance legislative frameworks in Europe. It had seemed to be moving in the right direction by focusing on such issues as violence against women, unemployment and legal discrimination between men and women. Indeed, the Government had pioneered some important measures. Particularly impressive were attempts to integrate women into all aspects of social and economic development, which was crucial to mainstreaming them. The Government had also focused intensely on a major problem, namely, employment, and it had taken a lot of concrete measures to eliminate discrimination against women in that regard.
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It had been interesting to learn that 75 per cent of all new jobs in Greece had been occupied by women, but at what level? she asked. She also sought more information about the situation of women displaced from the modernization of the agricultural sector. Another area of concern was illiteracy rates. If the authorities really wished to tackle the unemployment problem, perhaps more attention should be given to those concerns.
She said the Government's equal opportunity policy had still been unable to address the issue of wage discrimination. Were any concrete measures envisaged in that regard? she asked. While the legal machinery had been established, much remained to be done to enhance the basic position of Greek women, particularly in the field of employment. The necessary tools had been created; now it was up to the Government to take up more concrete measures, particularly with regard to those women displaced from the agricultural transformation under way.
While experts commended Greece's achievements in gender equality, including the increased participation of women in the labour force, and the implementation of anti-discriminatory legislation regarding the media and law enforcement, many were concerned about the issue of women and health. One expert noted that while the Government's efforts were commendable, it would be beneficial to include health-care professionals in their programmes. That would be important since those professionals could help in identifying the victims of violence, as well as play a crucial role in collecting evidence of violent crimes committed against women.
Regarding the economic aspects of the health system, an expert said that while it appeared that the country had a system of universal health coverage, it seemed that the Government had not grasped the essence of addressing women's health issues through the collection of information disaggregated by sex. Diseases that affected both men and women were experienced differently by women than they were by men. Hence, it was important to look at disaggregated data, which was also pertinent to the allocation of resources. That data could be applied to the delivery of services and public health research as well. As was observed in other parts of the world, women were the first to be affected by cuts in health services, and so the economic aspects of health care needed to be addressed.
The high rate of abortion was noted by some experts, as well as the fact that contraception was not covered under family planning services. One expert felt that if women had free access to contraception, perhaps they would not need to seek recourse to abortion as much. If contraceptives were not available to women, it was more likely that they would turn to abortion as a form of contraception.
Another expert was concerned about the low number of legal abortions, and asked why women would choose to pay out of their pockets when the service
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was covered by health insurance. She said it might have been because women were not aware of their legal rights or the quality of care available to them. The question of confidentiality and privacy might also have been factors. It was possible to have legal abortions and legal treatment of AIDS without compromising the confidentiality and privacy of the patient.
An expert drew attention the situation of minorities in Greece and asked whether there were any specific NGOs in the country that dealt with their problems. If there were, she wanted to know if they had contributed to the preparation of the Government's report.
One expert, noting that there was no scientific research on violence against women in Greece, asked if there were any plans to undertake research to acquire more data on the subject to be included in the next report. Another expert said that while the country seemed to have a lot of policies on the issue, it needed to review many of them, particularly the lack of focus on rape as an infringement of women's human rights.
Regarding child support, one expert said there was a high number of divorces and single mothers in the country. It seemed that single mothers bore the sole responsibility of child rearing, and she wanted to know what happened to the responsibility and accountability of the male.
Turning to the use of positive measures, one expert was not clear on what measures or affirmative actions were permitted by the courts. Also, were there measures with numerical goals and timetables for the private and public sector? she asked. In connection with Greek courts, another expert was encouraged to know that various lawsuits regarding gender discrimination had been filed. Also, while there were extensive legal measures to address the stereotypical images of women in the media, she asked whether there were any monitoring mechanisms in place for those measures.
Noting that prostitution had been decriminalized and now regulated in Greece, one expert asked whether the connection between regulation and the fostering of trafficking of women for prostitution had been considered.
ANTIGONI KARALI-DIMITRIADI, President of the Hellenic Research Centre on Women's Issues, said that experts' comments would be seriously considered. With regard to immigrant women, it was important that services were offered to them since they often became victims of trafficking and exploitation. Greece was currently in the process of implementing a pilot programme to address that problem. Also, there had been an increase in public awareness of the problems of those women. Although there were shelters set up where women could go to for help, that alone could not address the problem to the extent that was needed.
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The General Secretariat for Equality of the Two Sexes had formed a committee to look into legislation concerning rape within marriage, she said. Rape was rape, and a crime, even within marriage. She was confident that by the submission of the next Greek report, the legislation would have changed.
Addressing concerns over health care, she said that the country did have a system of health care that was free, and any woman, even minorities and refugees, could receive free tests in public hospitals. It did not make a difference whether or not contraception was free because it was a matter of choice as to whether or not to use it. Greece was concerned with the high number of abortions, and she hoped the Government would proceed with legislation to deal with that problem.
Health was a priority, she added, and while a lot had to be done, it was not only a matter of working together with the relevant ministries, but also of getting women informed. There was a strategic public campaign in place to disseminate information to women through the media.
AIDA GONZALEZ (Mexico), Committee Chairperson, said that health issues, especially abortion, was one of the key areas that caused concern among the experts. Other important issues included the situation of migrant women in terms of employment and health care, and violence against women, particularly in the family. While Greece had many laws in place, monitoring implementation of those laws was the next step required to change existing stereotypes.
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