When considering Georgia's efforts to advance the status of women, the impact of economic difficulties and internal conflict must be taken into account, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was told this morning by Rusudan Beridze, the Deputy Secretary of the National Security Council of Georgia on Human Rights Issues and Chairman of the State Commission on the Elaboration of State Policy of Women's Development.
Georgia had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women soon after independence and the Government had begun a plan for women's advancement, she told the 23-member expert body, as she introduced her country's initial report. However, due to the financial crisis, the State did not have the funds to implement the 1998-2000 Plan of Action. Georgia's 1999 budget was very stringent and special funds for women's problems had not been included.
She said that internal conflicts had resulted in a high number of displaced persons, particularly from Abkhazia, and the women, children and the elderly suffered the most. That area lay outside the Government's jurisdiction and it did not have the mechanisms there to protect the rights of women.
Following the introduction of Georgia's report, experts voiced a number of concerns and questions this morning. Some said that Georgia should consider using temporary special measures to promote equity and equality for women. One expert noted that formerly communist countries often avoided the use of quotas, because of past misuse, but stressed that quotas could be applied either properly or improperly.
Another expert said that there seemed to be "a cult of the mother" and no effort was being made to raise awareness of the rights of women as human beings. It was not inherently damaging to enshrine the role of women as
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mothers, she said, but efforts should be directed at creating an environment that allowed women to become full and multifaceted participants in society.
Experts also pointed out that Georgia had ways to change perceptions about women's role in society. For example, 47 per cent of magistrates were women and they could guide jurisprudence. Two thirds of journalists were women and they could increase awareness. Women must not be resigned to the single role of mother. Rather, they must be involved in development and decision-making.
Violence against women was linked to stereotyping, an expert noted. While it was a serious issue in any State, Georgia had to contend with the additional problem of internal conflict. Experience had shown that wherever there was conflict, violence against women would also be high. Legislation was needed that criminalized rape, both within and outside of marriage, and sexual violence.
The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today, to continue discussing the situation of women in Georgia.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to begin considering the initial report of Georgia (document CEDAW/C/GEO/1, Add.1, and Corr.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, which Georgia acceded to in September 1994. (For background on the current session, see Press Release WOM/1125 of 4 June).
The report, which covers the period from November 1994 to March 1998, is based on materials provided by State legislative and executive bodies, information from non-governmental organizations and mass media publications. It states that the legislation currently in force in Georgia, including those from the Soviet period, sufficiently meets the requirements of the Convention.
While there are a number of non-governmental organizations for women in Georgia, none of them deal with purely women's issues, according to the report. On the whole, they focus on social and economic issues. Also, since a national programme on the elaboration of a policy for the protection of women's rights has not been adopted, there is no system for monitoring implementation of the Convention's provisions. An inter-agency commission headed by the Deputy Secretary of the National Security Council for Human Rights Protection has been established, which deals with the elaboration of urgent organizational measures in the area of human rights, including women's rights.
There are no temporary special measures aimed at promoting women in various spheres in Georgia, states the report, which can be explained by the fact that Georgian legislation guarantees the equality of men and women. One exception is the establishment in the labour market of quotas for the hiring of non-competitive persons -- single mothers and mothers of large families, disabled persons, and persons of pre-retirement age. Since women account for the greater part of that group, such measures are considered "positive discrimination", insofar as they increase the number of jobs available to women.
According to the report, in Georgian history and culture, women have traditionally been considered as homemakers and keepers of community and social values. A respectful attitude towards women developed in Georgia, and is reflected in historical monuments and works of art. In such works, women are depicted not only as the object, but also the active subject of social relations -- for example, politicians and warriors. However, men have traditionally played the dominant role in Georgian society. Despite the non- discriminatory provisions that exist in Georgian legislation, the asymmetry of men's and women's social roles persists, especially in daily life.
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In Georgia's educational system, there are no special training or educational programmes aimed at overcoming negative stereotypes of the role of women in the family and society, since the accepted view is that those kind of problems are not typical for the country, the report states. Thus, no consideration has been given to a review of school textbooks for gender stereotypes.
While Georgian legislation contains provisions that guarantee equality between men and women in the exercise of all civil and political rights, the report states that only an insignificant number of women hold administrative positions and posts in legislative and executive bodies. There are presently no quotas on women's representation in public posts. On a more positive note, women are widely represented in political parties and other public associations, and one of Georgia's major political parties, the National Democratic Party, is headed by a woman.
In the field of employment, the report states that discrimination on the basis of sex is prohibited. The sex of a person is taken into account only in job placement and employment in categories of jobs in which female labour is prohibited. Such jobs are specified in the Labour Code. Approximately two thirds of the journalists working in the Georgian media are women. Recently, there has been an increase in the number of women who head media bodies or who hold managerial positions and participate actively in the decision-making process in such bodies.
During the transitional period, the level of male employment as compared to female employment has been more stable, since women have found it harder to adapt to the new economic conditions, states the report. The high level of unemployment among female production workers can be explained in part by the closure of enterprises of the light, food and chemical industries, which are traditionally women's branches of production. Many women have lost their jobs as a result of reforms in the areas of health and education.
The report goes on to say that unemployment studies have revealed an extremely low level of female participation in entrepreneurial activities. At the time the report was submitted, Georgia was preparing a national employment programme, a major part of which is the comprehensive programme to ensure female employment and improve working conditions for women.
According to the report, the principal reason for the spread of female prostitution in the country is the sharp deterioration in the country's social and economic conditions since 1991. Prostitution is not considered a criminal offence under existing legislation and, unfortunately, prostitution among minors has increased. Also, in recent years sex tourism has become widespread.
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Georgia has a serious problem with induced abortions, according to the report. In May 1997, a national family planning forum was held, in part to promote modern methods of contraception and reduce the number of abortions. Four criminal cases involving illegal abortions were instituted in 1997 and legal action was taken against four persons. The performance of an illegal abortion is punishable by imprisonment for a period of up to five years. Further, if the abortion was performed by a physician, the physician loses his or her right to practice medicine for a period of up to five years.
The difficult social, economic and political situation in Georgia has had an impact on the health of women and children, states the report. The birth rate is declining, while maternal and child mortality is increasing. Moreover, a process of depopulation has begun in certain districts.
Another serious problem facing the country is drug addiction, the report continues. The drug abuse service, which is just being set up, is not yet in a position to combat the problem. To redress the situation, Georgia has since 1997 been establishing drug abuse examination services. Also, in recent years there has been a trend towards the involvement of women in illicit drug trafficking. Active monitoring of drug users and the establishment of expert drug abuse services responsible for prevention, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and monitoring had been planned for 1998.
According to the addendum to the report, since the report was submitted the country has experienced economic, social and political changes that have affected major areas in the life of its people. Georgia has not been spared major upheavals due to the financial crisis that has gripped most of the world, particularly Russia. Among those who find themselves in the most difficult position are doctors and teachers, the majority of whom are women.
Despite the economic situation, which has hindered the attempt to achieve equality between the sexes, certain steps have been taken. The Commission for the Elaboration of a State Policy on the Advancement of Women was established in February 1998. In June of that year, the Action Plan for the Advancement of Women for the period from 1998 to 2000 was approved. It covers the main problems affecting women, defines specific measures to be implemented and sets time-frames, including an economic policy aimed at promoting women's economic self-sufficiency within a market economy.
The addendum states that the most pressing concern remains the internal conflicts that have resulted in a vast number of displaced persons -- including women -- most of them from Abkhazia. The huge numbers of displaced persons has given rise to a whole range of problems. The primary need for displaced women is health care. As to the status of women in Abkhazia, that region lies outside Georgia's de facto jurisdiction and it has no mechanisms for protecting their rights or those of other Georgian citizens living in that territory.
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Introduction of Country Report
RUSUDAN BERIDZE, Deputy Secretary of the National Security Council of Georgia on Human Rights Issues and Chairman of the State Commission on Elaboration of State Policy of Women's Development, introduced her country's report. She said that when Georgia became a member of the international community, it had assumed certain obligations, including guaranteeing human rights and freedoms. In the period since the submission of the report, changes had taken place that had affected the economic, social and political aspects of life.
Georgia had recently acceded to the Council of Europe, which should help to improve the human rights situation in the country, she said. Among the recommendations that accompanied that accession was strengthening the guarantee of rights, especially for unprotected groups and particularly for women. During the current year, Georgia had also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights. In addition, reform of the judicial system was in full swing, to create courts with genuine independence and impartiality. Qualifying exams had been established for the new judiciary and, as a result, 80 per cent of the judiciary had been replaced.
She said that the world financial crisis, which had severely affected Russia and the post-Soviet States, had also affected Georgia. The result had been a 50 to 60 per cent devaluation of the national currency and an increase in the price of goods and services. The national budget for the current year had only been adopted in March, which made it hard to cover the State's debt. Doctors and teachers, most of whom were women, were in a particularly difficult situation. Over the last three months, the situation had started to improve.
The 1999 budget was very stringent and special funds for women's problems had not been included, with the exception of one United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project. The State also did not have the funds for the 1998-2000 Plan of Action. Implementing that Plan had begun, but the economic difficulties had delayed its implementation. It was necessary to have a targeted economic policy for gender mainstreaming.
The Government intended to again address the question of establishing a department for women's affairs after the presidential elections of 2000, she continued. Presently there were 70 non-governmental organizations operating in the country, many of whom were active in dealing with women's problems. Since implementing the Platform of Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) was seen as mandatory, a presidential edict in February set up the Commission for the Elaboration of State Policy on the Advancement of Women.
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Temporary special measures to increase women's participation in political and public life had not been implemented, she said. In April, the State Commission had met to elaborate a State policy on women. Non- governmental organizations had taken part in that meeting and had appealed to political parties to include women on their party lists for the upcoming parliamentary elections. Women made up 60 per cent of the electorate.
Turning to crime, she said that the level of prostitution among under- age children was still high. In 1997, 50 people had been caught running prostitution rings with young girls. In 1998 that number was 49, but those numbers did not reflect the real situation, since there was no actual monitoring system. Law enforcement bodies had not taken note of cases of violence against prostitutes. In the first four months of 1999, there had been 11 cases of rape. The Parliament was now discussing changes to the Penal Code to tighten liability for rape, particularly against under-age children. There was no information about sex tourism in 1998.
The under-representation of women was still a problem at the decision- making level, she said. However, there was now a woman parliamentary leader and the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs was a woman. One of the major political parties had stated that their candidate for the next presidential election would be a woman.
Turning to guarantees for women's right to work, she said relevant legislation was in place, but the country's declining economic situation greatly affected the situation. The principle of equal pay for equal work was scrupulously abided by, but significant pay differentials between men and women existed, due to the fact that women were employed in lower-level positions. The majority of registered unemployed persons were women, and the numbers were increasing, particularly among persons with higher education. Educated women were now trying to obtain any work they could. Seventy-one per cent of unemployed women were specialists; 61 per cent of unemployed women remained without jobs for more than three years. Programmes were focusing on finding jobs for women and on improving conditions in employment.
Addressing health care issues, she said the number of abortions was still high. For the period of 1998 and four months of 1999, five persons were charged and indicted for the illegal artificial interruption of pregnancy. The Ministry of Public Health was focusing on providing people with contraceptives and popularizing their use, and those efforts would be continued. The national birth rate was dropping, but so too was overall infant mortality. The rate of maternal mortality was still rather high, but it had dropped as the result of concerted efforts to address the situation.
She said that the central budget paid for tuberculosis patients, as well as for birth and consultations for pregnant women. In addition, treatment for children up to the age of one year was free, with assistance provided also to
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young persons up to age 14. The penitentiary system had highly qualified doctors. The rate of tuberculosis was dropping as the result of national programmes to combat the disease. Georgia's national policy for public health to 2010 included special measures for protecting the health of women and children.
Drug addiction among women was increasing, she said. In 1998 and 1999, there were 122 cases of women involved in illegal drug trafficking and use. Regarding violence against women in the family, she said monitoring was difficult because of the latent aspect of the phenomenon, combined with the continued prevalence of traditional values. A confidential hotline had been established to provide psychological assistance to women suffering from domestic violence. Special shelters for such women did not yet exist, although the idea had been discussed. According to national information, women in such a plight traditionally sought refuge among family and friends.
The national plan of action for health included provisions to eliminate violence against women -- including that which took place in the home -- in large part through education, she added.
As of 1998, single dependent mothers were given special assistance, including tax exemptions, she said. In cases where a pensioner did not have a breadwinner in the family, the State had been unable to provide assistance, again due to the overall financial situation, but in the latter part of 1999 payments would be restored.
Convicted women served their sentences in special penitentiaries, she said. Currently, 112 women were imprisoned. Compared to incarcerated men, the approach in dealing with women was "positively discriminatory" in terms of health and food. A broad pardon of over 1,000 persons, including 20 women, had recently taken place, and a third phase was scheduled for September. The pardon was related to the fact that after independence, "rampaging gangs and economic ills had left a terrible mark on many people", she said. Rehabilitation programmes, with the involvement of popular cultural figures, sought to ensure that after serving their sentences, women became full members of society. Due to the country's economic plight, however, it was not possible to provide work to convicted women.
She said that internal conflicts had resulted in a high number of displaced persons, particularly from Abkhazia, which was a major problem. It was the women, children and the elderly who suffered the most from that problem. Repatriation had not yet been solved and, therefore, had been deferred. The displaced persons did receive subsidies and did not have to pay income tax. For the women, the primary concern was health care. With regard to the condition of women in Abkhazia, that area lay outside of the Government's jurisdiction and it did not have the mechanisms there for protecting the rights of the women.
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General Comments by Experts
Several experts stated that they were aware of the difficult circumstances Georgia had faced since independence in the social, economic and political spheres. They were particularly pleased to see that in 1998 the Commission on the Elaboration of State Policy for Women was set up and that the Plan of Action had been implemented. While aware of the financial constraints placed on the Government, they noted that that could not be used as an excuse not to implement programmes. That Georgia did not have any reservations with regard to the Convention was applauded by the Committee. It was also noted that the development of the country could not take place without an integrated development plan for women.
One expert wanted to know about the goals and targets in various areas of the Plan of Action 1998-2000. She was not convinced that many of those goals would be hindered by economic difficulties. Information was also requested on how the Plan was being executed in the various ministries and what type of monitoring system was in place to oversee implementation.
Experts also expressed criticism about the lack of data and statistics in the written report, which made it hard to assess the situation, without a frame of reference as to the larger picture. Also, the data had not been segregated by gender. One expert expressed deep concern at the fact that, throughout the report, there did not seem to be a correct understanding of what constituted discrimination. The oral presentation mentioned that there had not been any discrimination since the report was written. In the expert's view, however, that the maternal mortality rate was high and that the Government was not making use of special measures to improve the status of women were both forms of discrimination. She was concerned that discrimination did not seem to be well understood. Another expert stated that perhaps the reason there were no reported cases of discrimination was that women were not aware of their rights.
An expert noted that it was necessary for the economic development policy of a country to take women into account and to ensure their participation. Since poor women were a main area of concern of the Beijing Platform for Action, she wanted to know what sort of programmes were available to address and support the concerns of poor women. While the establishment of the State Commission was a positive step, experts wanted to know what the link was between that Commission and the different ministries involved with women's problems. In particular, an expert wanted know what relationship existed between the organization Ms. Beridze presided over and the various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that dealt with women's issues, and in what way those NGOs could bring their assessments and proposals to the Government. Also, did those NGOs participate in the preparation of the report?
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Another expert questioned why not one of the NGOs in the country dealt exclusively with women's issues. She also asked about the composition of their membership, how they were financed and what contribution they were making to the advancement of women. Also, she wanted to know what progress had been made on translating the Convention into Georgian.
Moving then to article 2, on legal provisions, an expert said she had not found reference to any constitutional guarantee for gender equality. Also, not one piece of legislation addressed women directly. Various areas of women's lives were affected by different kinds of laws, ranging from equal opportunity in the workplace, prohibition of domestic violence, regulation of prostitution and laws on abortion. Yet, none of those were mentioned in the report, so the Committee could not understand the law of Georgia in reference to women's lives. Another expert said neither the Constitution nor the laws addressed discrimination. They mentioned equality among citizens, not among men and women. The First People's Defence Council, or Ombudsman, had been entrusted, under the Constitution, to oversee human rights and freedom. To what extent was it mandated to address the human rights of women? she asked.
Turning then to article 3, on elimination of discrimination, the same expert noted that there was no institutional body dealing with women's issues. All the relevant bodies were subcommittees, or second-level entities. Throughout the report, it seemed that women were linked to their reproductive functions, she said, but that was just one part of women's lives. How was gender equality envisaged in legislation and institutions? she asked. Was there a plan to have one institution in the country deal with women's issues and women's rights?. The Georgian legislation did not seem to demonstrate the political will needed to take up women's situations as individuals and to condemn discrimination. Article 4, temporary special measures, was of particular importance for women in States undergoing difficult economic or political situations, an expert said. Such difficulties always adversely affected women's lives, and it was important that the situation be addressed by special measures. While she welcomed the special concessions for single mothers and women with large families in the labour market, special measures must be broad.
It was common, she continued, that countries that were formerly communist States did not want to use quotas, because of their history with the misuse of quota systems. But, quotas could be applied properly or improperly, and Georgia should use article 4.
On article 5, stereotyping and prejudice, an expert said that public perception of women's roles was key in affecting women's role in society. Regarding Georgia's national Mother's Day, she asked for clarification of the images and messages being transmitted. Was the message one of family
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planning? she asked. The reproductive role should not be encouraged alone. Women played other roles, such as magistrate, and the risk was that those would not be valued. Further, it was dangerous to celebrate Mother's Day on the same day as Women's Day.
In Georgia, there was clearly "a cult of the mother", another expert said. Yet, there seemed to be no work towards creating awareness of the rights of women as human beings. There was no education aimed at eliminating gender stereotypes, or training for persons in leadership positions. Was that being planned? she asked.
Stereotypes aggravated the already difficult situation of women, another expert said. It was not inherently damaging to enshrine the role of women as mothers, but what was being sought was an environment to allow women to become full-fledged, multifaceted participants in society. School books were a potent tool for inculcating ideas. Any images and ideas in such texts that confined women to the role of mother should be removed, as such images were the source of all discrimination.
Georgia had groups that could act to change the role of women in society, she continued. For example, many NGOs dealt with culture and should address women's rights. Forty-seven per cent of magistrates were women, and they could guide jurisprudence. Two thirds of journalists were women, and they could increase awareness. Women must not be resigned to playing the role of mother, alone. Rather, they must be involved in development and decision-making.
Also with regard to stereotypes, an expert welcomed Georgia's accession to the various human rights treaties and its membership in the Council of Europe. The transition to democracy could not be without the full integration of women in the fullest sense in the social, economic and political spheres. The elimination of discrimination against women was crucial for that, and the elimination of stereotypes was an important step.
She requested information on what was being done at the concrete or symbolic level by the Government to combat discrimination. When a society was undergoing transition, the attitude of the Government and the political leadership had a role to play in setting the right mood. Basically, she wanted to know what kinds of symbolic gestures were being taken by the leadership to demonstrate their commitment to women's equality. Another expert, recalling Georgia's history of giving women a very positive role, asked what was being done today to revive that role.
With regard to NGOs, an expert was concerned about what was being done by civil society and the Government to strengthen the role of NGOs on women's issues. While there were NGOs in the country, they focused more generally on economic and social issues. Also, had the Government adopted any national development plan that would guide it in gender mainstreaming?
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Several experts raised the issue of reviewing school textbooks and education policies, with a view to eliminating stereotypes. One expert was disappointed to read in the report that no consideration had been given to reviewing school textbooks or the learning process. The role of education in eliminating stereotypes was crucial. If the gaps between the legal provisions and reality were analysed, they generally stemmed from the type of education received and the climate one lived in. To do away with stereotypes was crucial, and education was the first step in that process. She hoped that in the next report some real steps taken to review and revise school textbooks would be included.
One expert noted that, while the Convention did not specifically refer to violence against women as a human rights violation, the Committee had general recommendation 19, which stated that such violence was a human rights violation. Stereotyping was definitely related to violence against women, which was a serious problem in any State. In Georgia, since 1991, there had been the additional problem of internal conflict. Experience had shown that wherever there was conflict, violence against women would also be high.
To address that problem, she continued, an evaluation of the extent and nature of the problem was needed, and then legislation that criminalized violence against women should be introduced. That legislation had to include criminalization of rape within marriage and sexual violence against women and the girl child. Legislation for protective orders for family members was also needed. It also required careful policy with regard to the police, whereby the police understood the problem and would arrest those perpetrators in the same way they would arrest other criminals.
Also needed, she added, was education and training for the police, health professionals, teachers, legal professionals and the judiciary. In that context, the Government could take into account the Committee's general recommendations 19 and 21, as well as the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, adopted by the General Assembly in 1993.
Another expert noted that the report was silent on gender-based violence, especially domestic violence. She wanted further information on the hotline that was mentioned in the oral report, as well as what existed in terms of services for those who called that hotline. The oral report had referred to "violence in the lighter kind", and she wondered what that meant.
The Committee then took up article 6, on exploitation of women. The spread of female prostitution was attributed to sharp deteriorations in social and economic conditions since 1991, an expert noted. Under existing legislation, prostitution was not considered a criminal offence, but keeping brothels and enticing women into depravity resulted in punishment. Yet, in 1997, many girl children had been found guilty of prostitution. What was being done, exactly? she asked.
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The report did not indicate what was being done to protect those women, some of whom were even travelling to Greece and Turkey to prostitute themselves, she said. Nor did it say what was being done to combat the phenomenon. The Committee had been told of a plan to institute a refuge for those women. When would it be implemented? she asked. It was not enough to attribute the situation to economic and social factors.
An expert said it seemed that there was complacency on some issues. On prostitution, the policy seemed to be one of deregulation. But that did not take into account the consequences of the phenomenon, particularly in an environment of extreme economic difficulties, and with a high incidence of prostitution of under-age girls. Cross-border trafficking and the repatriation of women with HIV/AIDS were among the issues that must be addressed. Regarding reforming the penal code, had there been efforts to make the sexual abuse of children an extreme offence? she asked.
An expert said the report did not focus on the provisions of article 7, women in politics and public life. The Committee had not been given sufficient data. Georgian legislation guaranteed equality of men and women and there was a real possibility of that being realized, according to certain factors -- including the impressive level of women's education. Yet, very few women held public office. It was disheartening that Georgia did not implement temporary special measures, particularly to allow women to rise to the level of decision- making in the public sector, and to achieve de facto equality. If women's equality was to be achieved, women must occupy decision-making positions, particularly in civil administration.
She asked for more information on the number and placement of women at high levels in the public and private sector and on whether positive images of women in public life were being promoted in the media. Also, she asked for information on the role of NGOs in projecting positive images, and to what degree women were involved in the national development plan.
The Committee then moved to article 9, on nationality. An expert asked how the nationality law operated in practice. Was it relevant in cases where women were moving out of the country and for their children? she asked. How was the law enforced?.
Next, article 11, on employment, health, safety and social welfare, was taken up. An expert asked about the historical roots of the current labour situation, and for more information on efforts to employ women, retrain them and raise wages, among others. During socialism, women had been clustered in certain labour sectors. When changes or reforms were introduced affecting those sectors, women were then hit the hardest. It was important that the Government took measures to counteract developments.
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She asked for more information on why the number of jobs in the education sector had been reduced. Also, she wanted to know the respective salaries of teachers at different levels of education, and what kind of training they needed. She asked for comparative data on the salaries of professions requiring the same level of education.
The "femalization" of certain professions was automatically linked to lower salaries, she said. Sexual stereotypes, such as women as caregivers, led to the feminization of certain professions. There was need to break through sexual stereotypes and adjust salaries. She drew attention to work done in the United States on the comparative value of jobs, focusing on equal pay for equal work, but also equal pay for work of equal value. Efforts had to be directed to assist women in regaining their economic position, in response to the fact that they had been affected by changes to the areas in which they had been clustered. Article 4.1 must be utilized.
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