13/07/2004
Press Release
WOM/1456


Committee on Elimination of                                      

 Discrimination against Women                                    

656th Meeting (AM)


women’s anti-discrimination committee experts urge malta


to incorporate convention into domestic law


Women’s Participation in Decision-Making, Labour Market

Among Issues Raised, As Country Presents Report on Convention Compliance


Expressing concern that Malta focused mainly on European human rights instruments, expert members of the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee this morning urged the country to incorporate the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women into its domestic law.


Acting in their personal capacities, the Committee’s 23 expert members monitor compliance with the Convention, often referred to as an “international bill of rights for women”.  Having ratified the Convention in 1991, Malta was reporting to the Committee for the first time today.


During the article-by-article review of Malta’s compliance with the Convention, experts stressed that the Government should consider the Convention when interpreting domestic law, submit it to Parliament, and accede to the Convention’s Optional Protocol, which would allow private individuals to submit communications to the Committee.  European Union legislation and acts, one expert pointed out, were of more limited scope than the Convention, and could not as easily focus on new developments.


Introducing the country’s report, Sina Bugeja, Executive Director of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality between Men and Women, explained that international treaties did not automatically become part of Maltese law, and that the Convention could not be invoked before the Maltese courts. However, people could invoke the European Convention on Human Rights in Maltese courts, along with the right to petition the European court.


Experts also noted that women’s participation in decision-making bodies was weak, particularly in the national and European Parliaments.  The expert from Portugal, lamenting that Maltese women failed to assume political representation, suggested that the country adopt special temporary measures, such as targets for women’s participation or minimum percentages for both sexes in political candidate lists.  Other experts noted a similar lack of female diplomats and stressed that special programmes were needed to encourage more women to enter the foreign service.


Several experts also commented on the low percentage of women in Malta’s labour market, suggesting that the country review measures it had taken to encourage women to work.  Such measures, which included various types of maternity leave, might actually discourage them from working in the paid labour force, and reinforce their roles as primary caregivers, they said.  In addition, the Government should consider training or retraining women entering the labour force after taking a break in their careers.


Addressing those issues, Ms. Bugeja noted that the proportion of women in high-ranking parliamentary positions was low, at only six out of a total 65.  Locally, women made up only 17.6 per cent of all local councillors, and 17.35 per cent of public bodies.


As for employment, many women left the labour market by age 25, she said, although those in the 30 to 45 age group now seemed to be returning.  Malta’s breadwinners were still predominantly male, however, and caregiving had remained a woman’s prerogative.  The country had introduced several measures to encourage women to work, such as paid maternity leave; unpaid parental leave; career breaks for public workers; the creation of State kindergartens for children between three and five years of age; and summer school programmes for pupils in primary school.


Ms. Bugeja also outlined Malta’s reservations to articles 11, 13, 15 and 16 of the Convention.  On article 13, the Government reserved the right to continue to apply its tax legislation, which deemed in certain cases the income of a married woman to be the income of her husband and taxable as such.  The Government reserved the right to continue to apply its social security legislation, which could make certain benefits payable to the head of the household, who was presumed to be the husband.  As for article 16, the Government felt that provision could be interpreted as imposing an obligation on Malta to legalize abortion.


Commenting on those reservations, the expert from Germany said it seemed discriminatory to both women and men that the social security office decided who was head of the household.  The reservation to article 16 was unnecessary, as neither the Convention nor the Committee made the case for abortion.  Reservations were a threat to the Convention’s universality, and serious consideration should be given to their withdrawal.


Also participating in Malta’s delegation were Vanni Xuereb, Advisor to the National Commission for the Promotion of Women; Deborah Attard, Counsellor to Malta’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations; and Victor Camilleri, Permanent Representative of the Maltese Mission to the United Nations.


The Committee will meet again at 10:00 a.m., Wednesday, 14 July, to consider the periodic report of Latvia.


Background


For its consideration of the situation of women in Malta, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) had before that country’s combined initial, second and third periodic reports (document CEDAW/C/MLT/1-3), dated 18 December 2002. 


Among the highlights of the report’s article-by-article description of adherence to the Convention, is a reference under Article 1 on the legal framework, which states that legislation on violence against women is presently being drafted, and a “white paper” published in May 2001, crystallized the issues with respect to setting up a Family Court, as a judicial forum with jurisdiction over all family-related matters.  New legislation on labour law seeks to actively promote, facilitate and contribute to the ongoing development of an inclusive society through the provision of quality of personalized serves and by actively encouraging and assisting individuals, families and community associations to participate in fighting social exclusion, ensuring equal opportunities for all, with special emphasis on the most vulnerable in society.


In terms of official policies on discrimination, the report finds that, in the last two decades, Maltese Governments have constantly reaffirmed their commitment to strive for the attainment of equality between men and women.  In 1987, an integrated approach was adopted to ensure women’s equality and advancement in the legal, civil, political, economic and social spheres of Maltese society.  Raising awareness on gender equality of policy makers and the general public was placed at the top of the list of priorities.  In addition to legislative reforms, other important areas addressed were:  education; equal employment opportunities; improvement in work conditions; and reconciliation of family and work responsibilities.  Action was also taken to improve the response to domestic violence, and units on domestic violence and child abuse prevention were established.  Importance was also given to the introduction of sex-disaggregated statistics.  Decision-making was another priority area, with special initiatives undertaken to increase the presence of women in politics and public service.


The issue of violence against women has been given high priority, the report states.  An inter-departmental Action Team, which included voluntary organizations and trade unions, was set up in 1991 to investigate and assess the incidence of violence.  The Action Team developed short- and long-term programmes, which integrated government and voluntary action to counteract domestic violence and other abuses, such as rape and sexual harassment.  As a result of the recommendations, two specialized units were established -- one on domestic violence and another on child protection.  The main purpose of the Domestic Violence Unit is to provide support to victims of abuse, assist them in finding adequate shelter, and offer them referrals and links to other support services.  The Unit also provides social work intervention, and is committed to violence prevention through education and the media.


According to the report, from 1995 to 1996, social workers at the Unit treated approximately 600 different cases of domestic violence, while 271 persons received services from the Unit in 2000.  The Unit has also formulated detailed guidelines for doctors, nurses, police, social workers, counsellors and the clergy to enable them to detect violent abuse of women and to deal appropriately with victims of violence.  The Child Protection Services Unit offers specialized social work to protect children.  In 1996, the Domestic Violence Unit launched a support line for women and children victims of abuse and other problems.  A special Police Victim Support Section within the Vice Squad, made up primarily by female police officers was set up.  The Support Section investigates cases of domestic violence and child abuse referred to them by district police.


In a section entitled “Wife Chastisement”, which the Government includes in its consideration of compliance with article 5 of the Convention on sex roles and stereotypes, the report says that there is no provision in Maltese law giving the husband the right to chastise his wife.  Although the Maltese Criminal Code does not specifically provide for a sanction in the case of a husband who chastises his wife, this situation would fall within the ambit of the general provisions dealing with bodily harm.  Moreover, bodily harm may be grievous or slight, with the former type “attracting a higher degree of punishment”. 


Concerning trafficking in women and girls, covered under Article 6 on suppression of the exploitation of women, the report states that legislation on that problem has existed since 1930, when the White Slave Traffic (Suppression) Ordinance, Chapter 63 of the Laws of Malta was promulgated.  This law prohibits the trafficking of persons, either males or females, for prostitution.  The law was amended several times since its enactment, the last time in 1994.  Prostitution is not a criminal offence per se if “practiced behind closed doors (in private) or in a place not easily accessible”.  Loitering and soliciting for the purpose of prostitution or engaging in other immoral acts in public is punishable by law and imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months.


Continuing, the report says that the commission of acts “against decency or morals” committed in a public place or in a place exposed to the public is punishable, on conviction, with imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months and by a fine.  Various persons are arraigned in Court and charged with loitering and soliciting for the purpose of prostitution.  This is a very difficult crime to prove since courts request that prostitutes are caught in the act of loitering or soliciting or “flagrante delicto”.  Prostitutes are not licensed and neither are brothels.  In terms of social attitude, “strong traditional values persist” in Malta.  Prostitution is considered highly immoral, and loitering or soliciting for prostitution in public is not tolerated.  Under criminal law, no distinction is made whether the victim of violence or rape is a prostitute or not.  Nor is a distinction made on the basis of the victim’s gender.  If a person practices prostitution outside of Malta, the offender is not liable to punishment in Malta, but the person in Malta compelling and sending such a person abroad is liable.


In terms of women’s participation in political and public life, the report finds a number of positive developments, including:  an increase in the number of women candidates; and increase in the number of women elected, both on local councils and in Parliament; the first-time appointment of a woman speaker in the House of Representatives; the appointment of women ministers; and the appointment of two elected female candidates as chairpersons of two parliamentary committees.  The national machinery organizes courses for women candidates at the national level and councillors working at the local level.  “These programmes provide appropriate tools for a political career”, the report states. 


Introduction of Report


SINA BUGEJA, Executive Director of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality between Men and Women of Malta, introduced that country’s combined initial, second and third periodic report.  Opening with a geographic description of the country, she then progressed to population statistics, noting that the country’s fertility rates had dropped, and that life expectancy in 2003 had been estimated at 75.8 years for males and 80.5 years for females.  The infant mortality rate had declined from 13.6 per 1,000 live births in 1985 to 6.0 per 1,000 live births in 2003.


Turning to political representation, she said that the proportion of women in high-ranking positions in Parliament and at cabinet level had remained low.  Currently, there were six female members of Parliament out of a total 65, of which two were cabinet ministers, one was parliamentary secretary and three others were members of the opposition.  At the local level, women made up only 17.6 per cent of all local councillors in June 2004, compared to 20 per cent in March 2001.  In 2003, women formed 17.35 per cent of all members of public bodies, slightly more than in 1999.


As for employment, she continued, the number of women in the labour market rose from 37,000 in 1995 to just under 46,000 in 2003.  At the end of 2003, some 45,883 were employed, 4,094 were unemployed, and 113,210 were classified as inactive (not employed and not seeking employment).  Younger women participated strongly in the job market, but many left it by the age of 25.  Women in the 30 to 45 age group seemed to be returning to the labour market, although breadwinners in Malta were still predominantly male, with caregivers work remaining a woman’s prerogative.  The country had taken several measures to encourage women to join the labour market, such as paid maternity leave; unpaid parental leave; career breaks for public workers; the creation of State kindergartens for children between three and five years of age; and summer school programmes for pupils in primary school.


Successive Governments had been committed to promoting gender equality, both by law and in practice, she said.  The present Government was focusing on such areas as gender mainstreaming, eliminating violence against women, including women in decision-making, the reconciliation of work and family responsibilities, and better working conditions.  In 2003, the Equality for Men and Women Act was passed, and in January 2004, the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality for Men and Women was appointed.  The Employment and Industrial Relations Act provides for equality of treatment in the workplace.  Cases of discrimination in the workplace are investigated either by the Industrial Tribunal or through provisions of the Equality Act.


Malta’s national machinery on gender equality, she continued, included the Minister for the Family and Social Solidarity; the Commissioner for the Promotion of Equality for men and women and the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality for Men and Women.  The Minister for the Family and Social Solidarity was responsible, among other things, for equality in Maltese society.  Set up in 2004, the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality for Men and Women was composed of a Commissioner and six members.  The Commission played an active role in raising public awareness on gender equality.  The Commission’s functions included establishing policies related to equality issues, working towards the elimination of discrimination between men and women, investigating complaints and providing assistance to persons suffering from discrimination. 


The national machinery, she said, had raised awareness on gender equality among both policy-makers and the general public.  Objectives included access to equal opportunities in education, the reconciliation of work and family responsibilities and the publication of gender-specific statistics.  Since its appointment in January 2004, the National Commission had followed on with the steps set out by the earlier Commission for the Advancement of Women and had added new initiatives directly emanating out of the Equality for Men and Women Act. 


When Malta ratified the Convention in 1991, Ms. Bugeja explained, it had also entered reservations to its articles 11, 13, 15 and 16.  Some of the reservations had been superseded by changes in legislation made between 1991 and 1994.  Regarding article 11, the Government interpreted paragraph 1 of that article as not precluding prohibitions, restrictions or conditions on the employment of women in certain areas where that was considered necessary or desirable to protect the health and safety of women or the human foetus.  On article 13, the Government reserved the right to continue to apply its tax legislation, which deemed, in certain circumstances, the income of a married woman to be the income of her husband and taxable as such.  The Government reserved the right to continue to apply its social security legislation, which, in specific circumstances, made certain benefits payable to the head of the household, who was presumed to be the husband.


Regarding article 15 and property law, she said the Government reserved the right to apply present legislation until such time as the law was reformed and during such transitory period until those laws were completely superseded.  The Government did not consider itself bound by article 16 in so far as it might be interpreted as imposing an obligation on Malta to legalize abortion. 


As treaties and conventions did not automatically become part of Malta’s law, the Convention’s provisions could not be invoked before the Maltese courts, she said.  As Malta had not signed the Optional Protocol, private individuals could not submit communications to the Committee.  However, Maltese individuals could invoke the European Convention of Human Rights before the Maltese courts, together with the right of petition to the European Court.  Following the Convention’s ratification, legislation was immediately enacted to give support to many of the Convention’s articles.  In July 1991, its Constitution was amended to include the equal right of women and men to enjoy all economic, cultural, civil and political rights.  The constitutional amendments also provided a legal remedy against discrimination on grounds of sex.


Continuing, she noted that, in 1993, family legislation had been amended to remove discrimination against women in marriage.  Both spouses now had equal rights and responsibilities in marriage, joint responsibility for children and might jointly administer any property acquired during marriage.  Following amendments to the Constitution and to the Civil Code, other discriminatory laws against women had also been amended.  Such amendments were made to the laws including those regulating citizenship and income tax and social security legislation. 


The expression “discriminatory” was defined by Malta’s Constitution, she said.  The term “discrimination” extended not only to acts of Parliament, but also included subsidiary legislation by whatever designation.  The 2002 Employment and Industrial Relations Act dealt with protection against discrimination in employment.  The 2003 Equality for Men and Women Act included discrimination in employment and self-employment, educational, sexual harassment and advertising.  The two laws aimed to actively contribute to the ongoing development of an inclusive society through the provision of quality-personalized services and by assisting individuals, families and communities to fight social exclusion. 


She said that, under Maltese legislation, any form of violence was forbidden, regardless of the sex of the victim who suffered such violence.  The Criminal Code, however, made a distinction when dealing with bodily harm.  Where bodily harm was inflicted on a pregnant woman, the crime was subjected to a much higher punishment.  The current draft law on domestic violence, which had been submitted to the Attorney General’s Office, contained a number of “orders” that would afford constraints to the perpetrator and protection for the victim. 


On the issue of employment, she noted that part-time employment was an overwhelming phenomenon that had characterized women’s movement into market work. It was a form of employment that had encouraged women with familial obligations to participate in the paid workforce.  The 1996 Part-Time Work National Standard Order provided for pro-rata benefits of all leave, including for vacation, sickness, birth, bereavement, marriage and injury.  Non-market work included household production.  Volunteering had no exchange value and was not included in national statistics.  Full-time housewives did not benefit from a home-care allowance and were not entitled to a pension when they reached the age of 60.


Questions from Experts


GORAN MELANDER, expert from Sweden, asked why the report focused on the European Convention on Human Rights.  Were other human rights instruments less important?  Also, when would the country incorporate the Convention into domestic law?  Could Maltese courts take the Convention into consideration when interpreting domestic law?  What was the Government doing to raise awareness of the Convention?  When would the country accede to the Convention’s Optional Protocol?


DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked why Malta had taken so long to present its first initial report.  Who had prepared the report and had it been formally adopted by the Government?  Was the report publicly available to all interested persons?  To whom would the Committee comments be presented?


HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked if the Convention had been translated into Maltese.  She also asked for clarification on Malta’s reservation to the Convention.  Regarding article 13, what were the specific circumstances that made benefits payable to the head of the household?  It seemed to be discriminatory to both women and men that the social security office decided who was head of household.  What had kept Malta from withdrawing its reservation to article 15 when it had taken so many legal reforms?  The reservation to article 16 was unnecessary, as neither the Convention nor the Committee made the case for abortion.  Reservations were a threat to the Convention’s universality, and serious consideration should be given to their withdrawal.


KRISZTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, asked for information on women’s non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Malta.  How many women’s NGOs were there in Malta, church and non-church related, and how were they funded?  Was there a transparent procedure for the distribution of funds and how did the Government work with women’s NGOs?  She congratulated the Government for the creation of the National Commission.  During its half year of existence, had it played a role in raising awareness of gender equality issues?  She also asked if it had identified policies related to equality issues, and if it had identified the needs of persons disadvantaged by reasons of their sex.  Had individual complaints been submitted to the National Commission? she asked.


FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, noting that Malta’s report contained numerous repetitions, requested that the next report be submitted in accordance with the reporting guidelines.


FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, asked if the report had been submitted to Malta’s Parliament.  When a country was placed on the Committee’s agenda, the Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union wrote to national parliaments in the hope that they would consider the report.  As the Convention seemed to be relatively unknown in Malta, it would be good for the Parliament to be more aware of the Convention.  It was also necessary to disseminate the Convention in all areas for the preparation of the next report.


Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, noted that European Union legislation and legal acts were not as encompassing as the Convention, which allowed for the consideration of new developments.  In that regard, she encouraged the Government to incorporate the Convention.


CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, noted that the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms had been transformed by Malta into European Convention law.  He was surprised to read that the right to petition the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, when local remedies had been exhausted, was contained in the European Act.  Regarding its implications for the Optional Protocol, what would the legal situation be in Malta if it ratified the Optional Protocol?  Did women have direct access to the individual complaint procedure, or did an act have to be adopted by Malta’s Parliament?  Malta was a party to the Optional Protocol of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Had it been transformed into an Act of Parliament?  Regarding the Ombudsman, was the Ombudsman aware of Malta’s obligations under the Convention?  Was the National Commission assisting the Ombudsman in increasing awareness of the Convention?


HUGUETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, expert from Benin, also asked about the role of the Convention in Malta’s domestic legislation.


FATIMA KWAKU, expert from Nigeria, asked how far Malta had progressed in applying the Convention.  She then drew attention to the country’s Social Security Act of 1987, asking for clarification on its remaining discriminatory provisions, and how they been addressed.  Also, what was the status of the country’s pending domestic violence legislation?


Ms. SAIGA, expert from Japan, asked about the composition and budget of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality for Men and Women.  In addition, how was implementation of the Beijing plan of action being evaluated?


MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked how the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality for Men and Women had coordinated with official Government departments to introduce gender mainstreaming.  How was that process progressing?


Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, asked about Malta’s mechanism for equality, and the role of the Government in that body.  Also, where did the mechanism fit in the national hierarchy, and how much impact could it have on different ministries to influence gender policies?


Ms. KWAKU, expert from Nigeria, asked whether centres to assist mothers still in school still existed in the country.  Had the number of young mothers increased since the centres had opened?


Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked about the results of the country’s gender mainstreaming plan, and how it was being followed up.  She was also confused about the new Commission for the Promotion of Equality of Men and Women, which was taking on some gender mainstreaming responsibilities.  Was it truly independent?


PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked whether the Government would adopt temporary special measures regarding employment and political representation for women.  She also asked for an update on the plan of action for women in public service.


Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked whether there was any discussion in the country’s legal community on certain articles of the Convention.


Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, commented that violence seemed to be treated in a gender-neutral manner in Malta’s report.  What was the general state of awareness in the country of gender-specific violence, and the status of its bill on violence against women?  She also suggested moving or deleting a section characterizing rape as “disturbing the good order of families” from the country’s criminal code.


DORCAS AMA FREMA COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked about the status of the country’s draft bill on domestic violence.  Also, what was the budget for domestic violence units and other support services?  Did the Government support NGOs working in that area?


SJAMSIAH ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, noted that according to the report, non-market work had no exchange value and was not included in national statistics.  She was also concerned that full-time housewives were not entitled to benefits or pensions.  On the issue of education, had the reform of school curricula considered the Convention’s provisions and had the reform of curricula been monitored?  Also, had the impact of gender-equality training for teachers been assessed?


Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, requested more information on the Government’s efforts to suppress trafficking in women.  She asked to what extent was Malta affected by trafficking, including what laws were in effect, how many cases of trafficking had there been, and how were victims supported.  She also asked for more information on prostitution, which was considered “immoral” in Malta.  As each prostitute had some five to 10 clients a day, it would be easy to figure how many men, mostly family men, used women’s bodies.  The practice, therefore, disturbed the order of families.  What had been done to attack the demand side?  What did the Government do to help women leave prostitution and give them other opportunities in life?  Even when no one could see it, prostitution discriminated against women as a practice, because prostitution involved men buying women like cars, refrigerators or meat.  Prostitution hurt women and should be suppressed, but not by making it criminal only for women.


Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, noted that the participation of women in all decision-making bodies was very weak.  She wanted statistics for Malta’s representation in the elections for the Strasbourg Parliament.  She had the impression that only Maltese men had been elected to the European Parliament.  Had the issue of women’s representation in that Parliament been raised?  She asked that the next report include more statistical data on women’s representation in decision-making positions.


Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, also raised the issue of women’s participation in political life.  In other countries, sometimes the directors of political parties found excuses for not having women in high-level positions.  As Maltese women participated in political life, it was unfair that they did not assume representation and in the same proportion as men.  Adopting special temporary measures might be necessary, such as targets for women’s participation or minimum percentages for both sexes in political candidate lists.


Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, said the percentage of women in the Parliament in the past 40 years had been extremely low, reflecting persistent, long-term under-representation of women in government.  The issue did not seem to be a priority for the Government.  Did the Government have plans to take temporary special measures to increase the number women in the Parliament, Government and local government?


Ms. COKER-APIAH, expert from Ghana, said the report indicated that the ratio of male to female diplomats was narrowing.  Yet, the report’s statistical data did not support that.  If more women than men succeeded in foreign service examinations, then more women should be employed in the foreign service.  Were those women absorbed in the foreign service?  The situation needed to be addressed, as more women were investing in education.  Special programmes were needed to encourage more women to enter the foreign service.


Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, commented that married women and men in Malta seemed to be treated differently when applying for a passport.  Was the Government considering any revision of the passport procedure to make it compatible with the Convention?


Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked for clarification about compulsory education.  Also, what was the success rate of female, as opposed to male, students in universities, and how many female students had been awarded scholarships and grants?  What efforts had the Government made to eliminate the country’s deep-rooted stereotypes on the roles of men and women?


Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked if there was any co-education in the country.  How much gender training was given to public officials and teachers?


Ms. ACHMAD, export from Indonesia, asked whether the Government had made any effort to encourage male students to take courses on domestic work or parenting skills.  Also, were any efforts being made to encourage women to enjoy full participation in sports?


SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, commented on Malta’s low percentage of women in the labour market, and suggested that the country revisit measures it had taken to encourage women to work.  Such measures, which included various types of maternity leave, may actually discourage them from working in the paid labour force, and reinforce their roles as primary caregivers.  In addition, did Malta have a migrant work force, and did they receive the same benefits as local employees?


Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked whether the Government had attempted to remedy the country’s current salary gap between men and women.  In what sectors was the wage gap broader?  Was the Government considering training or retraining women entering the labour force after taking a break in their careers?  Did vocational training target women, and was further retraining envisaged to improve their employment status?


NAELA GABR, expert from Egypt, commented that agriculture had no priority in the labour market, and that Malta should focus on that field.  She asked for more information about nurseries for the children of working mothers, and about working conditions for women in the informal sector.


Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said she was impressed that  Malta had primary health care free of charge.  It was a great achievement.  Contraceptives, however, were not free of charge.  The report had conflicting messages on the issue.  She was also concerned that IUDs could be inserted in public health clinics only if the health care worker felt that it did not go against his or her religious beliefs.  That was an obstacle to women’s rights.  While sexual education was part of Catholic religious instruction, it was not obligatory in regular school curricula.  She wanted clarification in that regard.  Given the rate of teenage pregnancy, more non-religious instruction ought to be made available.  While the Convention did not imply abortion, it did imply affordable and available means of contraception.  She was also concerned about the high rate of depression among women.  Research showed that doctors tended to diagnose depression in women more easily than in men.  She wanted to know about the gender health management system and whether stereotypes might have crept into the medical curriculum.


ROSARIO MANALO, expert from the Philippines, addressed the issue of property rights.  Well-intended legal reform called for a time frame.  In that regard, she suggested that the next report include a time frame for the completion of legal reform.  The report was mostly descriptive.  Also, what actions were being taken to improve the representation of women in the judiciary? 


Ms. GNACADJA, expert from Benin, asked for more information on the issues of head of household and parental authority.  While there had been some advances in some cases, there had also been some areas of regression.


Ms. KWAKU, expert from Nigeria, asked if the next report could contain more data on the issue of women’s rights to land ownership.


Ms. SIMONVIC, expert from Croatia, asked for clarification on tax return rights of married women and men.  Was the 1996 law still in force?  Did husbands need consent to be assigned for tax returns? 


Ms. KWAKU, expert from Nigeria, said it was obvious that divorce in Malta was considered illegal.  Was that not a violation of the fundamental rights of the human being?  What happened in such cases and how did families cope? 


* *** *