Returning refugees, rehabilitating victims of armed conflict and eradicating poverty in rural areas were parts of Georgia's 1998-2000 action plan for women, a representative of that country told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon.
The Committee today concluded its consideration of Georgia's compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Rusudan Beridze, Georgia's Deputy Secretary of the National Security Council on Human Rights Issues and Chairman of the State Commission on the Elaboration of State Policy on Women's Development replied to questions posed by Committee members at an earlier meeting.
The Plan's priorities included: creating gender units within the various ministries of Government; enhancing the role of women in public life; and promoting the economic independence of rural women, Ms. Beridze said. That would involve training women for leadership and political activity, among other efforts.
Regarding employment, she said that restrictions which prevented women from working in hazardous jobs were not discriminatory. Rather, they prevented the abuse of women in conditions that were harmful to their health. When the law was not adhered to, that was to the detriment of women, she said.
However, a Committee expert said that either men should be protected equally, since their reproductive systems were also affected by hazardous labour, or such restrictions should be abolished. The family and health burden should be shared equally.
Georgia's representative had said that pay for women lagged behind that for men because significant proportions of women were engaged in low-paying
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work. But why were salaries in female-dominated sectors so low? an expert asked. The fact that women were not paid less because they were women but because they were in low-paying jobs, was a good example of what was meant by indirect discrimination, another expert noted.
Prostitution and trafficking in women were not only problems in Georgia, but were widespread in the countries of the former Soviet Union, one expert stated. Not only was it a type of slavery as well as discrimination, but as a social phenomenon it could have serious negative consequences for the development of society as a whole. She suggested that the Government establish close cooperation with non-governmental organizations, which had proven to be effective partners in combatting the problem.
Another expert said it was important to recognize the links between prostitution, sexual stereotyping, and a lack of access for women to proper employment. Prostitution was often a manifestation of the lack of economic opportunities in society; those women in low-paying jobs saw prostitution as a more lucrative option. Regarding prostitution of under-age children, she noted that the Government had no interventionist policies, such as the criminalization of sexual intercourse with children.
Further, Georgia should network with other countries, including Turkey, which was a transit country, as well as destination countries, such as Germany, said another expert. Cooperation was needed with agencies and through bilateral negotiations.
Legislation should be in place regarding violence against women by the time Georgia's next report was submitted, she said. Women should be encouraged to come forward to complain. Sometimes, that required symbolic gestures, including campaigns by women in politics. She called for more information on domestic, custodial and terrorist violence against women.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 14 June, to consider the initial and second periodic reports of Belize.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this afternoon to continue its consideration of the initial report of Georgia on its implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The Georgian delegation was scheduled to respond to questions posed by the Committee following the presentation of Georgia's report on 9 June. (For further background on that report, see Press Release WOM/1129 and WOM/1130 of 9 June).
Government Response to Questions and Comments
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, first elaborated on the 1998-2000 Plan of Action developed by the Government for improving the status of women. That plan addressed seven of the 12 areas of concern in the Beijing Platform of Action. The first priority involved the establishment of institutions at different levels of the Government to address the question of gender equality. It would involve creating gender units within various ministries, which would be implemented after the parliamentary elections in November. It would also include the distribution of information on gender equality and the gender evaluation of all normative acts that would become law, as well as the gathering and analysis of statistics and data on gender.
Second, the Plan sought to enhance the role of women in public life, she said. That would involve training women for leadership and political activity. It would also create reserves for women for their participation at all levels of Government. Another goal was to increase women's representation in the diplomatic service and in international organizations. With regard to economic policy, the Plan would promote the economic independence of women by creating special programmes for women in rural areas.
Regarding women and poverty, she said that the Plan would gather and analyze data on the impact of macroeconomic and tax policies from a gender perspective. It would develop programmes for poverty eradication in rural areas; study the migration of women and its impact on the national economy; develop machinery for social assistance to mothers and other vulnerable groups; and establish benefits for doctors and teachers working in mountain regions.
Concerning women and armed conflict, the Plan would include women in the process of peace negotiations, she said. It would deal with the problem of divided families; develop machinery for returning refugees and displaced persons to their places of origin and returning property lost during the armed conflict; and develop rehabilitation programmes for victims of armed conflicts.
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Turning to the rights of women, the Plan would provide for training on the rights of women for State structures, she said. The translation and publication of international conventions and the Beijing Platform of Action, and the preparation of programmes on the rights of women for middle school and higher education would also be part of its provisions. There would also be special seminars on sexism for the mass media.
Responding to experts' concern over the lack of statistics provided in their initial report, she said that the delegation had prepared data and had provided it to the experts today. On cooperation between the Government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), she said that NGOs were invited to participate in the meetings of the Commission, which took into account their proposals. Non-governmental organizations did serious work in informing women about their rights. The Women's Convention had been published and about 2,000 copies had been disseminated throughout the country. While that was indeed too little, additional resources were being sought for further publication.
She said that the mandate of the Ombudsman in Georgia, according to the Constitution, was to monitor rights and freedoms throughout the country. That mandate applied to any individual in Georgia, and the Office was specially authorized to deal with women's and children's issues.
With regard to the issue of the Mother's Day holiday in Georgia, she said that many experts had felt that the holiday might narrow women's role in society. She said that in Soviet times, there had been a holiday known as Women's Day -- 8 March -- on which women were given awards. Many had found it as an annoyance because it set aside one day in the entire year as belonging to women. After independence, there had been a clear allergy to all the Soviet holidays, so Women's Day had been done away with and Mother's Day had been established.
Turning then to the issue of eliminating discrimination in public and political life, she said there were no predominantly female or male ministries in Georgia. Both were well represented in all such bodies, even the Ministry of Defense. Criteria for appointment included experience, professionalism and education. The sex of the candidate played no role whatsoever.
Regarding nationality rights, she said the country's citizenship law had been adopted in March 1993. While it had been changed since, it remained a non-discriminatory and gender-neutral Act. The nationality of children born out of wedlock was regulated in the same way as those born in registered marriages.
On Committee members' comments regarding discrimination in employment, she said that limitations in connection with working in hazardous jobs were not discriminatory. Rather, they prevented abuse of women in conditions that
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were harmful to their health. In practice, the law was not always adhered to, and that, she believed, was to the detriment of women.
Changes in the economy had led to reduced production, and affected salaries, which had fallen by almost 20 per cent, she said. However, there were normative acts, and a single rate of pay had been set. In 1998, laws on regarding new minimum salaries had been adopted. The level of pay was mandated to be in accordance with the principle of equal pay for equal work. Still, however, pay for women lagged behind that for men. But that was because significant proportions of women were engaged in low-paying work.
Adapting women to new conditions in a market economy was a painful process, she said. In the last few years, the dynamics and structure of employment had significantly changed. Retraining programmes were being implemented, many of them aimed at women specifically.
To comments on health, she said that privatization in medicine had only affected the network of certain offices and pharmacies. Work was ongoing regarding privatizing the larger medical establishment, in consultation with international entities including the World Bank. In 1997, the Government had adopted a law on State insurance. In 1999, 11 State programmes had been implemented on health, including one on safe motherhood, which included free visits to women's consultations and free birth services.
Today, unfortunately, artificially induced abortion was a primary means of family planning, she said. The Government was working to address the many aspects of reproductive health through means including training and educating young people. Centres for reproductive health had been established, with 35 offices throughout the country. They educated women and provided free contraceptives. Responding to a question posed on abortion's legality, she said it was considered criminal when performed by a doctor outside of a hospital or birthing house, or in unsanitary conditions, or by an individual without medical qualifications. A draft law on abortion was being prepared.
The Committee had asked how land reform was affecting women, she recalled. With other partners, including the World Bank, credit unions had been created which were designed to promote women's employment and participation. Currently 132 such unions were registered with more than 10,000 members. Women and men had equal rights in getting loans, and more than 1,000 women had taken loans through such unions.
A future effort would be to develop a comprehensive programme for developing mountainous regions, she said. That would involve individual projects designed to realize certain priorities, such as promoting and protecting women in such areas. Land reforms were not based on sex -- both men and women owned land.
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Education was accessible equally in villages and cities, she said. Basic education was obtained by everyone; there was no illiteracy. The schools' infrastructure might be less developed in rural areas, but qualifications for teachers was just as high in cities as in villages.
Turning then to discrimination in marriage and family, she said the Church was constitutionally independent from the State. Only legal marriages were recognized by the State. Property acquired in marriage was jointly owned, regardless of its origin. In cases of divorce, property was divided equally, by law. In the absence of agreement among parents, decisions on who the child would live with were taken by the Court. As a rule, it was the mother. The family was the most important cell of society, and the State promoted its well-being. Legislation on the family was carried out on a non- discriminatory basis. Traditionally, courts gave priority to the interests of women and children.
Concluding, she said the Committee's comments would be taken into account in future work. She appreciated the Committee's careful consideration and comments and she hoped her country's next report would show clear progress on gender.
Experts Questions and Comments
An expert expressed the hope that the economy would pick up and that peace would return to Georgia, so that full attention could be paid to other issues, such as sexual stereotypes. The speaker had mentioned "allergic reactions" to policies that had been implemented under socialism. While some policies had been used in a way that discredited them, it should be remembered that their essential core had not been wrong. In countries with experience in socialism, there was a tendency to dismiss such policies categorically. However, a second look was needed. For example, quotas and targets should be re-considered. Setting targets and goals was not problematic per se. Under socialism, claims for formal equality might have impeded understanding of indirect discrimination.
Not enough information had been compiled on the issue of violence against women, she said. In Eastern Germany, it had often been said that violence against women did not exist -- that women had economic power and therefore they would leave abusive situations. Upon Germany's reunification, however, it had become clear that such violence had existed. Georgia's next report should include more information on domestic violence against women, custodial violence against women in prisons and terrorist violence against women. By the time the next report was submitted, she hoped that legislation would be in place regarding violence against women. Models existed throughout Europe. Also, women should be encouraged to come forward to complain. Sometimes, for that, symbolic gestures must be made, such as a campaign by women in politics indicating they would support women in court cases.
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She applauded plans to establish a women's ministry and gender units throughout departments. The new ministry should receive adequate financial and human resources to carry out its work. Even if a large budget was not available, it could do important work. Training was key -- of bureaucrats, and of judges too.
She also called for more information on trafficking in women. Georgia should network with other countries, including Turkey and Greece, that were transit countries, as well as countries, such as Germany, which were where the women wound up. Cooperation was needed with agencies and through bilateral negotiations.
On women in employment, she said she understood the Government believed in restrictions on the grounds of health, but that was an inheritance from the Soviet Union. Either men should be protected equally -- their reproductive systems were also affected by hazardous labour -- or such restrictions should be abolished entirely. The family and health burden should be shared equally, or else women would become too expensive to hire. If the burden was placed solely on the woman, that would be a basis for continuing discrimination in the labour market.
Why were salaries in female-dominated sectors so low? she asked. Teachers and doctors should receive the same salaries as engineers. When a country started fresh, as Georgia was doing, it had an opportunity for real change.
One expert, referring to the delegation's statement that women were not paid less because they were women but because they were in low-paying jobs, said that that was a good example of what was meant by indirect discrimination against women. There was a need to find the reasons and causes of why women were in low-paying jobs, and then rectify the situation. It seemed that there was a blindness in the Government's understanding of what the Committee meant by indirect discrimination. Indeed, the issue of women in low-paying jobs had to be addressed as a matter of gender discrimination.
Turning to health, she said that she understood that with the onset of reforms, there was a need to optimize the health service system. Also, due to a lot of waste in the system, it had to be made more efficient. The report had stated that there was free health care for women in birth, and for infants up to the age of one year. At the same time, there was a high rate of maternal mortality. Therefore, she was concerned about why, if there was free care provided, was the rate of mortality so high. In addition, with regard to the current draft legislation on abortion, she hoped that it would not in any way restrict the reproductive rights of women, and hoped that more information on that would be provided in the next report.
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Georgia had a long history of the strength of women in its society, one expert noted. If that history could be studied and carried forward, perhaps it could be used to move forward in the struggle for women's advancement. Also, the women who had reached the top in their professions and enjoyed an almost equal status with men were mainly journalists, those in the media and judges. She suggested a study on how those women reached that level, and that information might then be of some use to women in other professions to help them move forward in their respective professions. In addition, since the media was very strongly in the hands of women, she wanted to how that would be used to advance the status of women.
Turning to prostitution and trafficking, an expert noted that it was a problem not only in Georgia, but was widespread in the countries of the former Soviet Union. Poverty, and economic and social difficulties primarily drove women to prostitution. She wanted the Government to address the issue seriously and do everything possible to stop it. Not only was it a kind of slavery and discrimination of women, but as a social phenomenon it could have serious negative consequences for the development of society as a whole. She looked forward to seeing, in the next report, information on specific measures taken to stop the problem, and to protect the women involved.
She also suggested that the Government establish close cooperation with NGOs to help remedy the problem. Experience had shown that NGOs could be precious partners in combatting the phenomenon of prostitution and trafficking in women.
Another expert said that it was important to recognize the links between prostitution, sexual stereotyping, and a lack of access for women to proper employment. Those who were in low-paying jobs often saw prostitution as a more lucrative option. Prostitution might be a manifestation of the lack of economic opportunities in society. With regard to the prostitution of under- age children, she noted that the Government had no interventionist policies, such as the criminalization of sexual intercourse with children.
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