Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
573rd and 574th Meetings (AM & PM)
COMMITTEE EXPERTS APPLAUD CZECH REPUBLIC'S POLITICAL WILL TO IMPLEMENT CONVENTION
ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN
Conditions Being Created for Equal Opportunities -- Deputy Minister
Experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today applauded the Czech Government’s political will to implement the women's Convention as they took up that country's second periodic report.
The expert from Portugal said she was impressed that the country's legislative reform was aimed at aligning itself with the requirements of the European Union, but noted that the requirements of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women went well beyond those of the Union, to which her own country belonged. The expert from Germany, concerned that the new legal system might not be understood, even by the educated elite and by lawyers, urged that the study of both international and European law be made obligatory at university.
Earlier, Miroslav Fuchs, the Czech Republic's Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs told the Committee that his country, preparing for accession to the European Union, had been creating the legislative and institutional conditions for implementing equal opportunity policies for both women and men.
He explained that his country was in a period of fundamental social and economic change that was essential for the transformation of the former communist regime into a free civil society. That transformation was supported by the creation and enhancement of legal as well as institutional frameworks for the application and enforcement of human rights. By the end of 1997, the Government had concluded that its policy towards gender equality required both systemic and coordinated implementation, he told the Committee.
Comprising 23 experts serving in their individual capacities, the Committee monitors implementation of the Convention. Its current exceptional session was approved by the General Assembly to allow more time to reduce the backlog of country reports. It has now concluded its consideration of the periodic reports of Mexico, Armenia and the Czech Republic. During the session, due to conclude on 23 August, experts will also consider reports from Argentina, Barbados, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Peru, Uganda and Yemen.
Asserting that trafficking in women was an international organized crime, the Deputy Minister said his Government considered its effective suppression a
matter of urgent international importance. The Czech Republic was both a country of origin, from which women were sold, as well as a transit country and even a destination country. Regarding domestic violence, a taboo topic for a long time, he said it had been spotlighted by the Government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as another critical area of concern and a gross violation of women’s human rights.
Some experts, including from Sri Lanka, asked about judicial and legislative reforms concerning issues of violence against women. The expert from Sri Lanka said the Czech Republic's report had provided a definition of rape as an offence only if there was some other physical violence associated with it, while in many other places, rape was defined as sexual intercourse without consent and a serious crime of violence against women.
The expert from Italy, noting the presence of nearly 12,000 asylum seekers and refugees, including a growing number of young women, asked if those were victims of trafficking now seeking asylum and whether the asylum seekers and refugees had any employment opportunities.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow to take up the third periodic report of Uganda.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) met today to consider the second periodic report of the Czech Republic (document CEDAW/C/CZE/2), which covers the period from 1995 to 1999.
It lists the approved legal and other steps taken towards the elimination of discrimination against women; important changes in the status and equality of women; measures aimed at removing the remaining obstacles preventing the integration of women into political, social, economic and cultural life; and problems emphasized by the Committee, with which the Czech Republic has not yet been able to engage.
The report, prepared by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, states that more than any deficiencies in Czech legal provisions, the Committee had previously criticized the level of monitoring and fulfillment of human rights, as well as the procrastination, or even passivity of the State administration. The obstacles to due enforcement of the Convention, which the Committee pointed out in January 1998, are presented with corresponding commentary.
Among the issues pointed out by the Committee at that time, following discussion of the country's initial report, were: the excessive tendency of the Government to regard women as mothers and in a family context rather than as individual and independent persons active in public affairs; the Government's insufficient understanding of the structural and cultural causes of inequality; the Czech legal system's lack of an unambiguous definition of discrimination and failure to address the actual inequality of men and women; and the inadequacy of the interdepartmental coordination body established within the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs in carrying out the functions of a national mechanism for the emancipation of women.
Introduction of Report
MIROSLAV FUCHS, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs of Czech Republic, said that during the last four years, his country had achieved outstanding progress in advancing the status of women and in implementing the relevant international obligations. The key international political undertakings of the previous Government had been the conclusions of the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and the follow-up conclusions of Beijing+5. Within the framework of preparation for accession to the European Union, the Government had been creating the necessary legislative and institutional conditions for implementing equal opportunity policies.
He said the country was currently in a period of fundamental social and economic changes that were essential for the transformation of the former communist regime into a free civil society. That transformation was supported by the creation and enhancement of legal as well as institutional frameworks for the application and enforcement of human rights. In late 1997, the Government had come to the conclusion that its policy towards equality between men and women required both systemic and coordinated implementation.
Since the most striking inequalities between men and women were traditionally found in labour-related and social spheres, he said the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs had been charged with coordination Government policies towards women. In 1998, the Ministry had submitted a programming document entitled “Government priorities and procedures in enforcement of the equality of men and women”, in short, “Priorities”. Approving the Priorities, the Government had resolved that implementation would be reviewed annually, making it possible to respond to current developments.
In the interest of implementing gender mainstreaming, he went on, the Government had instructed all ministries to develop, by the end of 2001, their own departmental priorities and procedures in the enforcement of equality between men and women and to set up a gender focal point. To promote equal opportunities in employment, the Government had adopted the National Action Plan for Employment in March 2002, he added.
The range of traditional human rights protection institutions had been extended in 1998 with the creation of the Government Human Rights Council and the Government Agent for Human Rights, he said. Both the Council and the Agent had advisory and initiative-presenting status. Apart from Government representatives, the Council was composed of permanent representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the professional public. One of its working bodies was the Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
In 2000, he continued, the Office of the Public Human Rights Protector -- the ombudsperson -- had been established to monitor public administration in relation to the observance of individual human rights and to encourage the rectification of incorrect official procedures, among other things. In October 2001, the Government had established the Government Council for Equal Opportunities of Women and Men, in order to eliminate institutional imperfections related to equal opportunities for men and women.
He said the general elections of June 2002 had shown a positive development in the status of women in political life. Four more women had gained access to the Chamber of Deputies, bringing the proportion of women there to 17 per cent. The newly elected Chamber had resolved to establish a Family and Equal Opportunities Commission.
However, equal access to executive positions in Government agencies and institutions was being implemented fairly slowly, resulting in insufficient representation of women at the decision-making level. The current Government had two women Ministers: the Minister of Health, and the Minister of Education, Youth and Sports. Women also headed the National Statistical Bureau, the Supreme Court, and the National Academy of Sciences, among other institutions. Women’s representation was higher at the local level.
The Convention, adopted by the Czech Republic in 1987, had become an integral part of the legal system, he said. The Optional Protocol had entered into force in 2001. Formal equality of persons, irrespective of sex, was guaranteed by the Constitution, the principle of gender equality having been introduced into the legal system by the revision of individual Acts. The Civil Court Proceedings Act had been revised in 2001, shifting the burden of proof in gender-based discrimination cases to the defendant. A revision of the Employment Act had introduced an option to adopt affirmative action in favour of disadvantaged groups in the labour market.
He said the main obstacle to progress in applying the equal treatment principle was the low level of public awareness regarding equality between men and women. Though the legal framework had been built, there was still a problem of fully incorporating rights in everyday life. Consequently, the outstanding priority in the area of equal opportunities was backing up the implementation of equality in practice. The Government endeavoured to involve both women and men in advancing the equality principle and at the same time, sought to treat equality not as a “women’s issue”, but as a gender issue that also concerned men. In April 2001, the Government had instructed all its members to incorporate, where appropriate, affirmative measures in relevant drafted legislation.
The Government considered the issue of effectively suppressing trafficking in women as a matter of urgent international importance, he said. The problem was one of international organized crime. The Czech Republic had not only become a country of origin, but also a transit, and even a destination country. Legislation provided severe penalties for those engaged in procurement, rape and trafficking in human beings. The main focus, however, was on preventive strikes against trafficking and other activities to combat international crime.
He said domestic violence had been considered a taboo topic for many years, but the situation had been changing recently. The issue had been made prominent by women NGOs and the Government. In 2001, it had launched a public awareness campaign appealing to the public to openly identify the problem. Domestic violence was not listed as a specific criminal offence, but could be punished as assault and battery, among other offences. Direct assistance to victims was provided by emergency telephone lines, safe shelters, counseling and other services.
Traditionally, there had been a high employment rate among women, he said. However, the division of male and female roles in the family was still deeply stereotyped. As few women stay home, the situation resulted in a double load for women, who were required to cope with both their job and their family. For a long time, adverse women-related consequences were compensated for by a high degree of legal protection at work, sometimes resulting in a tendency to hire men rather than women. However, sudden reduction of that protection represented a sensitive problem. The principle instrument to address that deadlock was the creation and promotion of equal opportunities for men and women.
Promoting legislative measures and changes in public opinion towards more active involvement of men in family life was of particular importance, he said. Positive changes in attitudes associated with gender equality in society and in the family were already apparent, especially in the younger generation. The new Government would support measures focused on reconciliation between family and professional life.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said she was struck by the fact that the law reform announced in the report was based mainly on European Union requirements, while the Convention’s requirements went far beyond those of the Union. Seeking clarification on the operation of national mechanisms, she said positive measures should be incorporated in relevant new legislation to correct historical imbalances faced by Czech women.
HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said she was aware of the challenges facing a country in transition, which could learn from the consolidated relevant bodies in the surrounding European countries. However, the country was putting a legal system in place that might not be understood, even by the educated elite and by lawyers. Raising awareness of new legal concepts was therefore a priority. She recommended that future jurists studying at universities be required to study international and European law. She asked whether the first periodic report had been whether the second report had been discussed prior to its completion with NGOs and other relevant groups?
Regarding the national machinery, she asked where complaints about human rights violations were lodged, and whether there were any ideas to establish an equal opportunities ombudsperson who might accept such complaints? Professional training for women entering the labour market after maternity leave was not necessarily what the Convention means by temporary special measures; that should be a permanent measure. How binding were such instructions on the various ministries? Was there a conceptual framework defining temporary special measures? Had specific goals and timetables been set and who was accountable for affirmative action components of the laws and programmes?
FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, sought clarification about the composition of the equality Council and asked what relationship existed between the Human Rights and for Equal Opportunity Councils.
SAVITRI GOONESEKERE, expert from Sri Lanka, said the Government’s focus seemed to be on labour law, but there was no direct access to a judicial system to challenge acts of discrimination. Pointing out that it had been said that people could go to the courts to challenge violations of the Convention, she asked which court those were. The remedies for women must be very clear, in order to make the Optional Protocol to the Convention available to them. Was there any kind of complaints procedure in the Council, or was there only an administrative procedure which simply received complaints?
Regarding laws on violence against women, she said the written report had provided a definition of rape as an offence if there was some kind of physical violence. But in many other jurisdictions, rape was said to be sexual intercourse without consent. Was the Government addressing that as part of its judicial reform? Rape was a serious crime of violence against women and it was therefore necessary to ensure that penalties related to the offence.
MARIA YOLANDA FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, turning to article 5 on stereotypes, said the report clearly stated that a major obstacle to combating discrimination was the prevailing discriminatory cultural patterns. Was the Convention specifically included in the educational system? she asked. The report stated that the Ministry of Culture would submit a proposed amendment to expand the norms regulating dissemination of anti-discrimination aims through the mass media. Had that amendment been introduced? Also, did the plan of action contain specific strategies for women? she asked.
She said that in terms of older and economically vulnerable women, the report stated that there was insufficient or no information about them. Precisely because discrimination had not been eradicated, those women suffered the consequences, especially with respect to employment opportunities. Had the Government considered establishing a gender dimension in its new plans?
Mr. FUCHS, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, said that European Union harmonization was one of the Governments main tasks before the country's accession to the European Union in 2004, but other concerns were also taken into account when harmonizing laws or preparing new ones. Each Ministry must declare that new legislation was in compliance with all international obligations or, even better, with all implemented provisions of those obligations.
The Ministry coordinated the national mechanism, he said. The Council of the Government for Equal Opportunity for Men and Women had been established partly as result of comments made by the Committee.
He said the legitimacy of positive action had been widely discussed within the Government and the Constitution required equality for everybody. Positive action could lead to positive discrimination. However, application of the positive action, had been found completely legitimate.
The application of various legal instruments was not often understood by the people and therefore not often used, he said. Few cases requiring protection against discrimination based on sex were brought to court. Through cooperation with NGOs and through the education system, efforts were made to raise awareness in society about human rights.
He said the conclusions of the Committee had been widely discussed in the country and the second report had been prepared in cooperation with NGOs. A publication including the conclusions had been distributed in thousands of copies throughout the country as well as through a Web site. The second periodic report had been sent to representative NGOs and their comments had been taken into account at the final stage. The report had also been discussed in the Council for Human Rights.
The establishment of an office or ombudsperson for equal opportunities was being discussed, he said. The Agent for Human Rights did not have the competency to deal with individual cases, but from individual complaints, he could distil initiatives to propose changes in legislation.
He said the Council of Human Rights focused on the implementation of various international instruments and had various sections dealing with the separate treaties. Those sections researched how legislation compared to international provisions and proposed remedies where necessary. As far as Government representation was concerned, ministries were represented at the level of Deputy Minister. The Council discussed the proposals of the various sections and could submit its own proposal to the Government. The Council for Equal Opportunities focused more on practical policies and legislation, not necessarily based on international obligations.
The Labour Code currently included the possibility that somebody who felt discriminated against could go to the District Court, he said. Such cases were considered to be standard employment disputes, as were cases of equal pay. The District Court was the first court of competencies. Appeals could be made to regional courts, which did not have special labour tribunals, though they had separate departments dealing with labour cases.
Regarding gender mainstreaming in the ministries, he said the policy was only one year old and that realistically, not everybody in all the ministries would be aware of it. Statistics were developed gender-specifically.
VIT SCHORM, Government Agent to the European Court for Human Rights, Ministry of Justice, said the principle of ensuring that human rights conventions were part of the judicial system had been incorporated recently. International conventions on human rights would have primacy over national law, a provision that had recently been expanded to all international conventions. The common law jurisdictions gave primacy to international conventions under a continental legal system. It was not possible to enter objections to any form of discrimination in general; only individual cases were possible. Assistance could be sought from trade unions or specialized agencies.
He said that in civil procedures regarding discrimination, the principle of reverse proof had been introduced in labour law and allegations of discrimination were taken as true, if not proved to the contrary. The reverse burden of proof had not been incorporated in other areas of law. A general law against discrimination was being devised, he said.
PETRA BURCIKOVA, Secretary of the Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Government Council for Human Rights, said a draft bill concerning the provision of equal treatment and on protection against discrimination would be submitted to the Government by year’s end. It would provide protection against any discrimination on grounds of race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, creed or religion. The draft applied to both public and private persons and aimed to ensure equal treatment in areas of employment, social security and social benefits, health care, education, the provision of goods and services and access to housing.
The draft bill was intended to establish an Office for Protection Against Discrimination, which would be entrusted with the task of promoting the principle of equal treatment through educational and advisory activities and through dissemination of information. The Office would also have powers of mediation and the ability to issue recommendations.
JANA SEVCOVA, Director-General of the Section on Education, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, said the Ministry was modernizing the curricula for all levels of education. Matters like human rights, protection against discrimination and equal treatment were mainly grouped under in the theme of civics. The most important issue, however, was the acceptance of all new requirements by the teachers and therefore new courses were being introduced for teacher. The Ministry cooperated closely with NGOs and provided them with money to organize seminars and publish material.
She said the universities were autonomous and the Ministry had no influence over their curricula. As far as she knew, however, the subject of human rights was covered in most universities.
Mr. FUCHS remarked that the Government did have influence on university curricula through its accreditation commission.
Experts Comments and Questions
SJAMSIAH ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, asked whether the Government expected the project with the Swedish expert to respond to the need for a central national coordinating body. Would the new body be created as a national focal point covering all sectors and all areas in which gender-based discrimination needed to be eliminated, as well as the entire process beginning with the formulation of policies? she asked.
HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, referring to the priorities document begun in 1998 and reviewed yearly, asked about the total budget allocated within each ministry? Had there been an increase each year since 1998? Within the general budget, how much was allocated for each project, including for combating violence against women? What was the sanction if a particular ministry did not fulfil its responsibility? she asked. In the annual assessment, were NGOs given a chance to share their opinions?
On violence against women, particularly domestic violence, she noted that three programmes were cited in the priorities document, including a public campaign for which a working group was to have been formed. How many times had that inter-ministerial working group met to discuss the tasks, and what kind of public campaign programmes had been launched? Regarding a second programme concerning assistance to victims, including an asylum house, she asked how many shelters there were and what kind of support they provided. Amending the criminal code was crucial and next year’s plan should include training for police, prosecutors, judges and health professionals, she said.
IVANKA CORTI, expert from Italy, noting the presence of nearly 12,000 asylum seekers and refugees in the country, asked if the new asylum law specifically provided for female interviewers at the request of a female asylum seeker. The presentation had indicated that more and more young women were asking for an asylum procedure. Who were those young persons? she asked. Were they victims of trafficking now seeking asylum? What were the criteria for granting asylum, and what employment opportunities did refugee women have?
FRANCOISE GASPARD, expert from France, sought clarification about the draft bill on prostitution, saying she had understood that some tension had arisen since the introduction of the bill with regard to the relevant international treaty on trafficking. The report stated that the bill would not run counter to that Convention. It also stated, however, that adoption of the draft bill had been postponed because it the contradicted the Government’s international commitments.
Mr. FUCHS, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, said discussions had been going on about the overall structure of a new institution for monitoring and implementation. One question was whether it should limit itself to gender issues or also take into account discrimination on grounds of ethnicity, for instance. Another aspect was the division of competencies between the national and regional authorities, as several responsibilities had now been transferred to local authorities.
So far, there was no method to sanction Ministers or Ministries that had not fulfilled their duties regarding equal opportunity and gender mainstreaming, he said. However, reporting was frank and no excuses were accepted if a Ministry had not fulfilled its task. Non-governmental organizations had indeed been involved in the drafting of the Priorities paper and were involved in its assessment. The Priorities did mention some information about the financial resources available to NGOs to operate asylum houses.
He said the number of asylum seekers was correct as indicated, but he had no information on the composition of asylum seekers, as questions about privacy might be involved. There was concrete legislation providing the possibility for asylum seekers to apply for employment. People with asylum status were treated equally with Czech citizens and could ask for citizenship.
HANA SNAJDROVA, Desk Officer, Department of Crime Prevention, Ministry of the Interior, said it was indeed through the work of NGOS that the topic of domestic violence had been brought to public attention. It was estimated that
16 per cent of those older than 15 years suffered domestic violence. Prevention was an important component in the fight against the phenomenon. Non-governmental organizations, as well as the Ministries of Labour and Health had initiated a mass media campaign and established a help line covering the whole country. In April, the Ministry of the Interior had initiated an interdepartmental working group to deal with domestic violence. It aimed to achieve optimal cooperation between the State and NGOs.
She said the new Code of Criminal Procedure Act 265 regulating prosecution had to be disseminated to police officers as well as victims. The definition of rape had been extended to cover various sexual acts rather than just coitus, as had been the case previously. Rape could be punished by two to eight years’ imprisonment. More severe penalties had been established for cases such as rape with bodily harm and rape of people under 15 years. An Interior Ministry Web site gave a list of all shelters and contacts for victims of domestic violence and the Ministry was planning a specialized training course for police on how to deal with victims of crime.
The Czech Republic cooperated with Germany and Poland on issues relating to illegal migration and trafficking in human beings, she said. Among asylum seekers there were victims of trafficking, but there was no plan to apply the asylum act to them. The existing aliens act was applied instead. Victims could be granted temporary residence for three months, which could be extended, if the victims were willing to contribute to investigation of the case. If granted temporary residence, victims had access to the health care, but could not immediately receive social benefits or join the labour meeting.
Mr. FUCHS, continuing with his response when the Committee met this afternoon, said he had no information about legislation concerning mass media. However, after many years of censorship, the media protected their independence and freedom of expression. There were councils for television and radio which oversaw objectivity and freedom of the media. The Government representatives on those councils should help mass media in influencing public opinion on gender equality. The Government also organized press conferences to try to initiate debates on radio and television, as well as in newspapers.
There were about 30 shelters receiving Government subsidies, he said in answer to another question. Those facilities were specifically intended for women with children. The Council on Equality had discussed the topic, because some NGOs had asked for more Government support for those institutions.
Ms. SNAJDROVA said the Interior Ministry had concluded in 1999 that the existing legislation could not cope with widespread prostitution and had proposed an act to deal with the problem. However, the proposed act would run counter to the 1948 Convention concerning trafficking and prostitution. To overcome that obstacle, a university faculty of law had been asked to investigate and propose a solution. It was hoped that as soon as the Czech Republic ratified the Convention on Transnational Crime and the Protocol against Trafficking in Human Beings, the situation would be easier.
Mr. SCHORM, Ministry of Justice, said in regard to incest and that such an offence was punishable by two years in prison. A sexual relationship between a father and his 15-year-old daughter could be considered incest, rape or sexual abuse. If those legal qualifications were compounded, the longest penalty was applied.
Ms ABAKA (Ghana), Committee Chairperson, said incest was one of the worst types of rape. Any ambiguity about that on the part of the Government should be clarified. She urged a second look, as it was very serious to read in an official document that anyone who copulated with a certain line of relatives or siblings were imprisoned for only up to two years.
FRANCES LIVINGSTONE RADAY, expert from Israel, expressed particular concern about the high level of education among women and their disproportionately low level in professional and public posts. Even in the judiciary, there was a problematic promotion pyramid. That highlighted the need for the Government to incorporate, where appropriate, positive affirmative measures.
Were there targets, goals and timetables for civil service promotions? she asked. Was there any quota or movement towards a quota for placing women on realistic lists? Would there be quotas for their representation on public advisory boards, such as the accreditation boards of universities, as in the Scandinavian countries.
She asked the Minister to reconsider his remark that discrimination based on age might be more critical than discrimination based on sex, saying that discrimination on the basis of sex formed or deformed a woman’s whole life pattern. In addition, age discrimination aggravated sex discrimination, and older women were among the most disadvantaged members of society, she said.
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, referring to article
7 concerning the representation of women in public life, said the Czech Government seemed to have concluded that their low representation was due to women’s lack of interest in political life. It seemed to her, however, that women had been excluded from a general list of political parties as was true in many countries where politics was a traditionally a male stronghold.
She added that the fact that more than 50 per cent of women had been elected from an independent list of candidates meant that both women and civil society were strong and willing to work without bias. Moreover, political participation had not been included in the delegation’s list of priorities. How had the Government intended to address such stereotypes and discrimination? she asked.
ROSARIO MANALO (Philippines) Committee Vice-Chairperson, focused her questions on the participation of women in the decision-making processes of the media and NGOs, asking how many participated in decisions in State-run and private television, radio and newspapers. Could the Government encourage the advancement of women to key positions in the mass media to make it more gender-friendly? According to information from certain NGOs, 70 per cent of their workers in the Czech Republic were women. How many held key positions in the NGOs and who formulated NGO policy on gender equality?
Mr. FUCHS, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, said there was no law regulating the participation of women in politics or prescribing quotas. The Government was willing to prepare a new election law to make elections more gender-friendly, but there were no quotas for public committees or the public administration.
Figures on women in decision-making posts in the public administration varied according to ministries, he said. The ideal was for ministries to pursue the policy that in case several candidates of the same quality were eligible for posts, women should be preferred. There was a legislative provision that called for a balance between the sexes in leading posts. Regarding women judges on the Supreme Court, he said it had been transferred from Prague to another city, and Czech people, particularly women, were unwilling to move because of the earlier mentioned stereotypes.
Mr. SCHORM, Ministry of Justice, disagreeing with the Committee experts’ criticism, said the President of the Supreme Court was a woman, as was the Prosecutor-General. He had noted that in the judiciary, women were more sensitive to certain types of cases such as family law, which were dealt with in the lower courts.
Mr. FUCHS, responding to another question, said there had been discussion about which employment problem should have priority: unemployment of women or the serious problem of unemployment of older men. Among people in his Ministry, age was given a higher priority.
Regarding women in leading media posts, he said research had shown that over the last 10 years, the chief editors in all nation-wide newspapers were men. The same was more or less true in television. It was not a good situation, but the Government had few tools to influence the decisions of the private media. It was hoped that the mass media would change their policies under the influence of public opinion and NGOs.
The NGOs with which the Government dealt all had men in leadership positions, he said, adding that he did not know how the Government could influence that situation. Those situations were the result of deeply rooted stereotypes and it would probably take a generation for attitudes to change.
Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked whether the idea of creating a body to hear complaints about stereotypical or degrading depictions of women in the media had been promoted. That had been done in Germany and was working quite well. On sanctioning Ministers, who were currently only shamed if they did not comply with the Council’s recommendations, had the Government considered instituting a policy whereby the Cabinet sent back a policy or law when a Ministry failed to fulfil its tasks? That had been quite successful in Germany, she said.
Regarding the issue of equal pay for equal work, had the Government adhered to the International Labour Organization’s definition, and why had it been clearly stated even in the report, that even a male and female typesetter with the same qualifications had great differences in pay. Why had the monitoring bodies not done anything about that? Had the system of work classification been examined with regard to stereotypical thinking about men’s and women’s skills? she asked.
She expressed dissatisfaction with to the Government’s handling of temporary special measures, saying it was addressing the issue incrementally. Non-binding regulations, however, would lead nowhere, as had been the experience of other European countries. Had numerical goals and timetables been written into the provision for temporary special measures, for which there must be a mandatory and clearly designed and monitored plan?
Ms. RADAY, expert from Israel, noted that progressive employment legislation had recently been put in place, but there seemed to be a real problem of enforcement and implementation. For example, there had been a greater increase in joblessness among women and vertical segregation was evident, whereby women dominated in low-wage jobs. As a group, they also earned considerably less than men overall. It seemed that the disadvantage of women in employment increased in women in higher education and in female-dominated professions, for Roma women and women over 60. How could those problematic results be addressed? she asked.
She said it seemed women were not pursuing their rights in court, and enforcement of the statutory standards was necessary. Unions could also bring charges, but it was most unusual for them to bring cases of sex discrimination, as they were often partners in it. There was evidence that a most effective way was through the establishment of independent equal opportunity commissions, with the right to investigate, make recommendations or take action in court.
Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, referring to gypsy women, for which the representatives had said few statistics were available, said the report had not drawn a distinction between the gypsy population and the population as a whole. Studies on employment had shown that only 19 per cent of the women of that community worked. Apparently, there was a national educational programme to ensure equality for young gypsies, but what did the Gypsy Affairs Council do and what had it recommended to ensure parity between women and men?
AYSE FERIDE ACAR (Turkey), Committee Vice-Chairperson, seeking information about the “casual” or informal labour sector, said information about that sector was difficult to obtain. Small business and self-employment were high for women in the Czech Republic and there was a European Union programme supporting crafts, small businesses, and micro-enterprise. But what was the extent and conditions of Czech women’s participation in the informal sector? she asked. Specifically, what were their health and retirement benefits?
Drawing attention to the interface between women’s participation in the informal sector and such phenomenona as trafficking, illegal labour and prostitution, she said many women in Eastern European countries engaged in cross-border trading and ran the risk of having their rights violated significantly. They were often exploited by border control personnel and criminal gangs alike. It was critical, therefore, to protect women in the informal sector, including at the international level.
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked about retraining possibilities for women who took career breaks because of family responsibilities.
AIDA GONZALEZ MARTINEZ, expert from Mexico, expressed grave concern about the report’s figures on tobacco consumption and drug use. Women were much greater users of barbiturates and sedatives, and that use increased with age, she said. What about establishing preventive measures to deal with that problem? Opiate usage was also high among young boys and girls.
Another issue of concern was the very high number of induced abortions, as high as 50 per cent of live births, she noted. The tables in the report indicated that abortion was a family planning method. The Government should consider the possibility of applying a more in-depth sexual education and family planning programme countrywide. Also, a broader range of contraceptives could be made available to both men and women to avoid recourse to abortion.
Ms. ABAKA, (Ghana) Committee Chairperson, also expressed concern about smoking and drug use among Czech women. She encouraged the Minister to strengthen the awareness-raising programmes about the effect of smoking on pregnancy.
Mr. FUCHS, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, said he did not know of self-regulatory bodies for mass media, but there was a code of conduct for advertising companies. A proposal for the regulation of necessary gender analysis had already been considered. It would be helpful in pushing for implementation of gender mainstreaming in all ministries.
Regarding the definition of equal pay he said the Wages and Salaries Act of 2001 gave a concrete definition of discrimination and equal pay for work of equal value. It also described criteria for what was considered work of equal value and criteria for sanctions. Methodologies were being developed on how to assess those criteria. The Labour Code addressed the definition of discrimination regarding the total remuneration including benefits.
On enforcement of anti-discrimination legislation, he said the current system provided for inspections through labour offices. Trade unions should play a more important role in the matter of wage discrimination in their collective bargaining. The Government could not influence unions or NGOs, however. In-depth research was being done on wage discrimination and the results should be available by year’s end. Concerning vertical segregation, he said that women, because of family duties, often did not accept key posts, even if nominated, as they involved longer and more involved work. Since May, women on maternity leave could apply for job training, he added.
Regarding ethnic minorities, he said statistics on the number of unemployed women were not available because workers were not tracked according to ethnicity. That would be a violation of privacy laws. He estimated there were about
300,000 Roma in the country. There was a comprehensive programme to support that ethnic minority, but the Roma had fewer employment possibilities owing to a lower education level. The Ministry of Labour was pursuing a special programme to support the employability of people with special problems, specifically the Roma of both sexes.
ALENA STEVLOVA, Chief of Healthcare Department, Ministry of Health, said life expectancy had increased over the last 10 years, to 72 years for men and
78 for women. Infant mortality had decreased and stood at 4.1 per thousand in 2001. As there was a slow increase of mortality among women due to diseased neoplasm, a screening programme had been established in 2000, and programmes for screening breast cancer and cervical carcinoma had also been created.
She said there had been a significant decline in the number of induced abortions, achieved primarily by using other contraceptives. However, they were not free and were only partly covered by health insurance. Support for planned parenthood was part of the national health programme.
Professional societies and NGOs had asked for changes in the situation of sterilization, where the procedure could be performed at the patient’s request, she said. A draft act on health care would be submitted to the Government in this year's third quarter.
She said Czech society had traditionally been tolerant of excessive drinking and that tolerance also extended to smoking and drug use. There were some very alarming long-term trends, such as a sharp increase in alcohol consumption among younger people. A bill was being prepared to address the problem and to provide effective tools to protect society and children.
Mental disorders represented 2 to 3 per cent of health problems in the country, she said. Care was provided to chronic patients, but psychiatric health care was fragmented. It was necessary to formulate a plan for mental health care. There were plans to develop psychiatric departments in hospitals. Pilot projects were being initiated to develop comprehensive mental health care in communities.
Mr. FUCHS said the Government was trying to eliminate the informal sector, which he considered the shadow economy. It consisted mostly of migrant men working in construction. An inter-ministerial commission had been established to eliminate illegal employment. The Government was also preparing new labour legislation which would cover all possible kinds of employment situations.
Prostitution was one of the activities of the informal sector, he said. There had been attempts to regulate prostitution, but it was a politically and socially sensitive issue. Some political parties were against legalization and the Government intended to provide some regulation as well as protection for prostitutes.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
FENG CUI, expert from China, noting that new family laws had been promulgated, asked what had been the guiding principles in revising the Family Act. Had the Government consulted women or women’s organizations? She also asked whether discrimination in issues of child custody had been redressed in reforms of the law? What percentage of divorces were due to domestic violence? Why had principles of guilt or fault not been introduced?
Ms. GOONESEKERE, expert from Sri Lanka, noting a reference to a Prague study suggesting that 51 per cent of rapes actually occurred within marriage, said the Government representative had acknowledged the underreporting of domestic violence and asked whether the criminal code covered marital rape. In the case of domestic violence, could the woman obtain an exclusion order and did she have the right to remain in the marital home?
Recalling the Government representative’s expressed concern about acknowledging men’s rights in custody cases, she asked whether the courts considered the best interests of the child. Ensuring a man’s right to custody should not impinge on the interests of either women or children.
Final Country Replies
Mr. SCHORM, Ministry of Justice, said the second period report contained information about the principles guiding reform of the family code, which were largely the interests of children and the desire to have divorce based less on objective elements and more on subjective elements. There was now a mutual consent divorce, which had not previously existed. Formerly, a “rupture” of the couple was required, but the new regulations went hand-in-hand with the need to decide, before the divorce, issues of child custody.
Regarding the statistical inequality between men and women with regard to child custody, he said the situation was improving slightly. The imbalance persisted, but the 1998 amendment of the Family Code had helped create other forms of shared custody. Before, the child was entrusted to one of the former spouses and there had been virtually no possibility of entrusting the child to both. The changes had been guided, in particular, by the wish to increase the possibilities.
He said rape within marriage was still rape. The Criminal Code defined the various offences, and that was true also for the crime of incest. So the definition of rape was not based on the “kind” of rape.
Practical application of the Family Code had depended primarily on judges, who decided the future of the children following a divorce. Their decisions centred mainly on the interests of the children, based on the ability of the parents to provide the best possible living conditions.
Within the Family Code, family violence was not a grounds for divorce; however, it might be an explanation as to why the conditions for divorce were met.
Ms. SNAJDROVA said the Government opposed any manifestation of domestic violence, and rape was one of the most serious of violent criminal acts. Detailing the breakdown of statistical data on rape in the Czech Republic, she said one-eighth of all Czech women had been raped; 12 per cent had been forced to
have sexual intercourse, one-third of them repeatedly. Of the total number of women raped, half had been raped by their husbands, 38 per cent by someone they knew, and 11 per cent by someone they did not know. Only three out of 100 women had reported the rape. Seven per cent of girls and 4 per cent of boys had been sexually abused; only one-tenth of abused boys and girls had informed their parents, and even fewer had informed the police.
She said adoption of legislation on domestic violence, such as what had been implemented in Austria and Germany, would be optimal in the Czech Republic. The Government was considering such revisions of the legislation, but that was an extensive process, which would take time.
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