Why had the health-care system been privatized, and how did the Government expect the population to pay for medical services? an expert member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women asked this afternoon, as the Committee continued its consideration of Georgia's initial report.
Addressing the 23-member expert body that monitors compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, she called for clear information on the concrete impact of privatizing health care, both on women's general and reproductive health.
Another expert wondered whether privatization could be related to the rise in maternal mortality. While the country's economy left no funds for broad insurance, the matter must be addressed in another way, and with creativity.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco consumption was also linked to maternal mortality, noted another expert. She asked whether Georgia had a policy on tobacco or programmes to protect women and youth from nicotine consumption. Tobacco consumption rose in countries that were going through difficulties, such as Georgia, as well as in developing countries.
With regard to employment, an expert stated that the elimination of discrimination meant equal opportunities for women and men. She could not understand why restrictions were placed on women doing night work, overtime work or undertaking business travel. That, in itself, constituted an impediment to equal opportunities for employment.
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While the report claimed that there was no difference in the situations of urban and rural women, who comprised one fourth of the Georgian population, several experts wanted to know what the real situation was like. One expert asked about rural women's access to credit; whether they had property rights; and whether they were able to own land. Also, was the Convention known to rural women and did they exercise their rights in the same way that urban women did? she wanted to know.
Since family law was so controversial in many countries, one expert wondered what the driving force had been for Georgia's Family Code -- which was very specific on the concept of equality of spouses -- particularly since there was a problem with stereotyping against women in the country.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow to consider the third and fourth periodic reports of the United Kingdom.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this afternoon to continue its consideration of the situation of women in Georgia. The Committee's 23 experts, who serve in their personal capacities, had before them Georgia's first report on its national efforts to comply with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women -- called a "Bill of Rights for Women" -- to which it acceded in 1994. Georgia is the first country being considered in the Committee's current session, which will last through 25 June.
(For further information on the session, see Press Release WOM/1125 of 4 June).
General Comments by Experts
Turning to article 11, equality in employment, one expert noted that in Georgia women accounted for 53 per cent of the labour force. While it was commendable that the Labour Code had provisions such as maternal benefits, the report did not elaborate on the implementation of those provisions. Normally, women suffered from discrimination in employment, such as being hired for low- paying jobs and getting lower wages than men for work of equal value. It was admirable that the labour laws allowed quotas for the hiring of women.
She also asked whether the agricultural and newly emerging private sectors were covered under the existing labour legislation. Also, how had the rapid changes which accompanied a transitional economy impacted the lives of women? She also requested more information on what sort of child-care facilities were available to working women.
The report had stated that women had much less leisure time than men, she said. She asked what types of social services were available to women, and whether there were less services available now than during the Soviet period. A question was also raised on the existence of any laws on sexual harassment in the workplace.
Another expert stated that the elimination of discrimination meant equal opportunities for women and men. The report noted that there were restrictions placed on women doing night work, overtime work or undertaking business travel. She could not understand why women workers were restricted from such types of work. That, to her, was a great impediment to equal opportunities for work.
Next, Committee members took up article 12, on eliminating discrimination against women in the field of health. An expert asked what principles were embodied in the Patients' Rights Act. The Committee had recommended rights for patients, including the rights to privacy and to choice. She wondered whether Georgia's concept of rights was similar. Clarification was also needed regarding
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the Medical Insurance Act of 1997. She understood that the Act covered birth services, but if that was so, how was the rise in maternal mortality to be explained? she asked. She wondered whether the increase was related to the country's privatization of health care. The report also mentioned increased numbers of infants dying at home -- that, too, required explanation.
According to the report, the number of stillbirths had increased, she continued. What kind of prenatal care community services were available to women within or without the Medical Insurance Act? Article 12 was the only provision in the Convention that mentioned that it was sometimes necessary to grant free services. She asked what priority was being accorded to prenatal care in a culture that celebrated motherhood, as Georgia's clearly did.
She commended Georgia's partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) regarding training and supplying contraceptives. The Committee needed more information on what exactly Georgia's Law of Abortion was, as the report mentioned cases of illegal abortion.
Turning then to the issue of sexually transmitted diseases, she said it seemed that prostitutes were being targeted for efforts to prevent disease, but that could be unfair to the prostitutes themselves. According to the Committee's other sources of information, the spread of disease among persons aged 19 to 25 was a source of great concern. Were programmes providing information and services relating to sexual health for people of that age group? she asked.
In some countries, health professionals had a duty to report to the police cases in which there was a suspicion of violence, she said, and she wondered whether Georgia was considering such action. Then she asked for more details on the proposed programme for 2010, which was to include special measures to promote women's health.
Another expert then asked about smoking, noting that tobacco consumption was rising in developing countries and those that were going through difficulties. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there was a link between tobacco consumption and maternal mortality. Did Georgia have a policy on tobacco? she asked. Did it have programmes to protect women and youth from nicotine consumption?
Another expert asked why the health system had been privatized. She understood that there were no funds for broad insurance, as there was no production, and taxes were not being paid. But the matter must be addressed in another way with creativity. She said she could not imagine why the privatization had taken place, or how the Government expected the population to pay for medical services. The Committee needed to know what the concrete impact of privatizing health care was for women, both for their general health and their reproductive health.
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Regarding rural women, an expert noted that the report stated that rural women accounted for one fourth of the women in the country. The percentage of women engaged in agricultural work was 81.3 per cent, which meant that rural women in Georgia had an important role to play. Further detailed information was needed on rural women, such as what effect land reform had on rural women and what rights they had under those reforms.
While there was no legal discrimination against rural women, she wanted to know whether there was any de facto discrimination against them. Also, what was the situation of rural women like with regard to education and health? Since they represented a large portion of Georgian women, their rights certainly needed to be promoted. She hoped more statistics would be provided in the next report.
Another expert noted that the report stated there was no difference in the situations of rural and urban women. She had serious doubts about that, since no proof had been presented in the report. She wanted to know precisely what the situation of rural women versus urban women was. Also, there were no illiteracy rates, which were usually higher in the rural areas, presented in the report. If indeed there were no differences between the two sets of women, statistics were needed to prove that.
In the next report, she would like to see information on rural women's access to credit, whether they had property rights, and whether they were able to own land. All of that would show the de facto situation in the country. Also, was the Convention known to rural women and did they exercise their rights the same way that urban women did?
Turning to article 16, on marriage and family, an expert commended Georgia's Family Code, which was enacted in 1997 and was very specific on the concept of equality of spouses. As family law was so controversial in many countries, she wondered what the motivation for that legislation was, especially since there was a problem with stereotyping against women in Georgia. Also, given the gap between legislation and reality, what was being done to strengthen the capacity to enforce those laws? she asked. She also wanted to know what was meant by property and non-property rights, which was mentioned in the written report.
Further, a concept of equal responsibility for children existed along with a concept of male breadwinners, she added. She wanted to know how those two concepts coexisted. Another expert noted that, according to the report, the State was not opposed to religious marriages. She wanted to know what sort of laws applied to the Muslim population. The new civil code, which provided for co-ownership of goods acquired during the marriage, was commendable. Concerning divorce, she was interested to know who had rights over the children and decided about their care when there was no mutual consent between the spouses.
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