|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
Chamber A, 765th & 766th Meetings (AM & PM)
ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE EXPERTS PRAISE AZERBAIJAN’S LEGAL, POLICY STEPS,
EXPRESS CONCERN WOMEN ON THE GROUND HAD SEEN LITTLE ACTUAL BENEFIT
Chair of Committee for Family, Women and Children’s Affairs
Presents Reports, Says Government Committed to Convention Implementation
While much had been done to promote the advancement of women in Azerbaijan, including an impressive list of laws, policies and programmes clearly indicating the country’s political will, the real issue was whether those measures had really benefited Azerbaijani women, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women agreed today, as it considered Azerbaijan’s combined second and third periodic reports.
Expressing concern that efforts to achieve gender equality at the formal level had resulted in little success on the ground, one expert said it was, perhaps, a case of “symbolic action” -- when laws, programmes and plans of action were introduced without the necessary resource and implementation capabilities. In that regard, she asked if the country’s national machinery for the advancement of women had concrete powers, including in terms of budgetary and human strength. Noting that the “Law on Gender” left the impression of being merely “a paper document” or political declaration, another expert asked if the law provided a legal basis for strengthening Azerbaijan’s gender equality institutions.
Concerned also by the persistence of deeply rooted stereotypes reflected in widespread sex-selection abortions and the perception of men as “rulers” in the family, experts stressed the need to combat sexual stereotypes and promote equal distribution of obligations within the family. Stereotypical patriarchal attitudes ruled Azerbaijani families, one expert noted. While efforts were being made to address the issue, stereotypical attitudes, with few exceptions, continued, with an “unspoken” public agreement regarding the privacy of family life. Women’s subordination started at home and if the Government was reluctant to interfere, efforts to advance gender equality would not achieve the desired results, she said.
Focusing on the issue of trafficking and violence, particularly among Azerbaijan’s 1 million refugees and internally displaced persons, one expert said that, while she did not question the country’s willingness to introduce laws and improve the framework to address trafficking, most victims were young women who were leaving the country to find jobs or to marry in other countries. Trafficking in people was part of international organized crime and, in fact, many of those women were forced out of the country. It was the Government’s responsibility to prevent young women from becoming pawns in that dangerous game. Given the ongoing conflict in Azerbaijan’s border region, the Government also needed to ensure that refugees and internally displaced persons did not fall easy prey for traffickers, yet another expert said.
Stressing the need to stop the practice of early marriages, experts urged the Government to raise the women’s age of marriage to 18. Noting that up to 70 per cent of brides in the southern regions of the country were underage girls, as young as 12, one expert wanted to know what was being done to stop that practice and wondered how such marriages were treated, once they became known to the authorities. Echoing that concern, another expert asked about the rights of women with respect to joint property and inheritance. As some 90 per cent of new landowners were men, following the privatization of land, she wondered what was being done to correct such discriminatory practices.
Introducing Azerbaijan’s report, Hijran Huseynova, Chair of the State Committee for Family, Women and Children’s Affairs, said her Government had been highly committed to the Convention’s implementation. Azerbaijan’s focus was now on further strengthening the legal and policy framework and ensuring that women did not experience de facto discrimination. Like many countries, Azerbaijan had more work to do. Azerbaijan was not only working to ensure gender equality, but was also resolving such difficult issues as domestic violence and trafficking. Many of those issues not only required Government intervention, but would also require considerable long-term cultural and attitudinal change.
Addressing the issue of trafficking, she said that phenomenon had been one of the negative consequences of Azerbaijan’s transitional period. Measures to address the issue included the Parliament’s ratification in 2003 of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its additional Protocol, the elaboration of a national plan to combat trafficking in persons and the adoption of a law on human trafficking. Although a young country with newly created legal structures, Azerbaijan had, however, achieved certain successes. She believed the recently adopted law on gender equality, which had been subjected to a rigorous public debate, would receive broad support.
Stereotypes, she added, were not only how men imagined women’s role in society, but also traditional stereotypes among women themselves. Questioning the expert’s information, she noted that, while early marriage existed in several areas of the country, they did not represent 70 per cent of all marriages. The Government had addressed the problem recently at a conference and the question of equalizing the minimum age of marriage for men and women was currently under consideration.
Chamber A of the Committee will meet again tomorrow to take up Greece’s sixth periodic report.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to take up the combined second and third periodic reports of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1995 and signed the Convention’s Optional Protocol in 2000. The Optional Protocol entered into force in the country in 2001.
Introduction of Report
The delegation of Azerbaijan, headed by the Chair of the State Committee on the Issues of Family, Women and Children, Hijran Huseynova, also included Tarana Guliyeva, Deputy Prime Minister of the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan; Irada Huseynova, Deputy Minister of Education; Oruj Zalov, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs; Agshin Mehdiyev, Azerbaijan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations; Murad Najafov of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Faig Gurbanov of the Ministry of Justice; Nargiz Yusubova of the Ministry of Economic Development; and Basti Agharzayeva, Kamala Ojagova and Fidan Mehdiyeva of the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs.
Also participating in the work of the Committee were other members of the delegation: Narmin Baghirova of the Ministry of Youth and Sport; Aytakin Huseynli of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of Population; Reyhan Huseynova, Chairperson of International Association of Future Studies; and Vafa Afandiyeva, Chairperson of the National Association of Women Entrepreneurs.
Presenting the report, HIJRAN HUSENOVA, Chair of the State Committee for Family, Women and Children’s Affairs, said her Government had been highly committed to the Convention’s implementation. Azerbaijan’s focus was now on further strengthening the legal and policy framework and ensuring that women did not experience de facto discrimination. Like many countries, Azerbaijan had more work to do. Azerbaijan was not only working to ensure gender equality, but was also resolving such difficult issues as domestic violence and trafficking. Many of those issues not only required Government intervention, but would also require considerable long-term cultural and attitudinal change.
She noted that the report, which covered the period 1996 to 2004, included reference to the specific laws and statistical data necessary for measuring the Convention’s implementation in the country. The report also highlighted key outcomes of national policy since the submission of Azerbaijan’s initial report and significant progress in the area of promoting gender equality and measures to overcome existing difficulties. Considerable progress had been made during and after the reporting period in addressing Azerbaijan’s obligations under the Convention. Azerbaijan had now adopted the Law on Gender and the draft law on violence had been submitted to the Parliament.
She said the occupation of 20 per cent of Azerbaijani territory by neighbouring Armenia had resulted in the emergence of over 1 million refugees and internally displaced persons. The territorial dispute and constant breaks in the ceasefire had hindered the full enjoyment of civil rights and liberties. Another issue was the reconstruction of Governmental bodies, poor links between them and the lack of societal transparency. In February 2006, the State Committee on Women’s Issues had been transferred into the State Committee for Family, Women and Children’s Affairs. One of the first tasks of the Committee was to revise Azerbaijan’s report, which contained some inaccuracies.
The Government guaranteed equal rights and freedoms for all and prohibited any gender-based restriction on the enjoyment of rights, she said. In accordance with the Basic Law, all were equal before the law and the courts. Azerbaijan’s legal system did not provide for an official definition of the concept of “women’s discrimination”. However, the Criminal Code, the Marriage and Family Code, the Labour Code, the laws and decrees of the President and the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers supporting the national plan of action on women’s issues had been outlined to eliminate de jure discrimination against women in the political, economic, social and civil fields. The concept was also clearly defined, with the definition of discrimination provided for in article 1 of the Convention. A newly adopted law on gender equality contained the definition of discrimination on the basis of gender. According to the law, adopted in October 2006, discrimination included sexual harassment and unequal treatment.
The main principles of human and civil rights and freedoms, irrespective of gender, were stated in Azerbaijan’s Constitution, she said. The law on gender equality covered such issues as the directions of State policy for guaranteeing gender equality, the preparation of State programmes on gender equality and promotion of gender equality culture. The law obliged the Government to eliminate all forms of gender-based discrimination, create equal opportunities for women and men and provide for the balanced participation of women and men in public administration and decision-making.
She said the starting point for the development and advancement of women in Azerbaijan was the Fourth World Conference on Women and the Convention’s ratification. Those two events had led to the establishment of national machinery to promote gender equality. The State Committee on Women’s Issues had been established by Presidential Decree in January 1998. In February 1998, the Committee’s statue had been approved and defined by a Presidential Decree. In March 2000, the Presidential Decree implementing State policy on women’s issues had been issued. In implementing the Decree, the State Statistical Committee prepared an annual report entitled, “Women and men in Azerbaijan”. The National Plan of Action on Women’s Issues, 2000-2005, had been drawn up on the basis of the Beijing Platform for Action, taking into account the country’s current situation and priorities. The new National Plan of Action on Family and Women’s Problems for 2007-2010 had been elaborated by a task force consisting of governmental and non-governmental bodies.
Equality of men and women were embedded in the country’s legal and policy framework, she continued. Article 25 of Azerbaijan’s Constitution also assured gender equality. Laws existed to ensure the equal rights of women in all areas of life, such as the right to equal pay and paid parental leave. The legal measures prohibiting any discrimination against women in the family were determined by article 34 of the Constitution and the 1999 Family Code, which provided that spouses had equal rights and the same personal and property rights within the family. Gender roles were assigned at an early age. In Azerbaijan’s history and culture, women had traditionally been considered as homemakers and keepers of community and social values. The law prohibited any form of violence or threat in the family and provided for sufficiently severe sanctions if they occurred. One important action had been the establishment of a working group to elaborate a draft law on domestic violence.
Trafficking had been one of the negative consequences of Azerbaijan’s transitional period, she said. In May 2003, the Parliament had ratified the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its additional Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children. To step up efforts to combat trafficking, a Presidential Decree of 6 May 2004 had elaborated a national plan to combat trafficking in persons. The law on combating human trafficking had been adopted in June 2005. In September 2005, additions and changes had been made to the country’s laws in order to recognize human trafficking as a crime and bring Azerbaijan’s legislation in line with the Convention on Transnational Organized Crime. Most of the victims of trafficking were young women leaving to find a job or to marry in different countries. Prostitution was banned in Azerbaijan and was punishable by a fine.
Concerning women’s involvement in political and social life, she said the Constitution established the right of all Azerbaijani nationals, including women, to participate in the administration of the State. Under article 56 of the Constitution, women had the right to vote in all elections on the same footing as men. Under article 35, every person had the right to choose freely, on the basis of his or her working capacities, his or her own form of activity, profession, occupation and place of work. Regarding nationality, she noted that a person with political and legal ties with Azerbaijan and the corresponding rights and obligations was considered a national of the country.
On the issue of employment, she said Azerbaijan had been a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO) since 1992 and had ratified 55 ILO Conventions containing legal standards on women’s labour and employment. Under article 35 of the Constitution, everyone had the inalienable right to work. The Labour Code, which entered into force in July 1999, strengthened the country’s labour policy through appropriate legal regulations. The 2006-2015 employment strategy included measures on assistance to women entrepreneurs to provide gender equality in the development of small businesses. Article 240 of the Labour Code regulated the specific conditions applying to the conclusion of an employment contract with a pregnant woman, or a woman with a child under three years of age.
She added that there was no discrimination against women in the field of health care in Azerbaijan. Also, the Government had adopted a number of laws to combat HIV/AIDS. The National AIDS Centre focused on protecting the rights of people with HIV/AIDS. Concerning social and economic benefits, she said the Government’s main obligation in providing social protection services was to develop an effective safety net strategy that would target recipients more rationally, help the poorest and weakest groups in society and, in the short term, facilitate the operation of new State communal policy.
On the issue of rural women, she said the right to own property included the right of the owner, alone or jointly with others, to possess, use and dispose of property. Social services and medical care were less developed in the rural regions than in the towns and women sometimes had to travel significant distances to avail themselves of those services. Special development programmes were being implemented to promote the development of the mountain regions. In December 1998, Azerbaijan had acceded to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families of 18 December 1990, which also provided for the right of migrant workers to reunite with their families.
Marriage, she added, was a voluntary union between a man and a women registered with the State Civil Registry of the Ministry of Justice for the purpose of founding a family. Any restriction of the rights of citizens upon entry into marriage and in family relations on grounds of social origin, race, national origin, language or religious affiliation was prohibited.
As the Committee began its consideration of the implementation of the Convention in Azerbaijan, the experts focused on the country’s national machinery for the advancement of gender equality, definition of discrimination in the country’s legislation, domestic laws to promote gender equality, the role of the Human Rights Commissioner, and measures to eliminate violence against women.
RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, said that she had an impression that while, indeed, much had been done to promote the advancement of women in Azerbaijan, those efforts remained on a formal level and there had been not much success on the ground. Perhaps, that was a case of “symbolic action”, when many laws, programmes and plans of action were introduced, but without sufficient resources to achieve results. In that connection, she wanted to know about concrete powers of the country’s national machinery for the advancement of women, its budgetary resources and human power.
SHANTI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, shared concerns regarding the lack of impact of the measures undertaken by the Government, saying that women’s representation remained low in Azerbaijan, there was both vertical and horizontal segregation of women, and more women were involved in unpaid work at home. The reasons for insignificant results needed to be assessed. Among other things, she also wanted to know if the country had a framework for securing equal representation of women in decision-making and if there were benchmarks to ascertain and monitor progress.
While commending the Government for adopting the law on gender equality, VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, said that she had been one of the experts involved in the development of that law. Frankly, the draft produced an impression of being “a paper document”, a political declaration. Her concerns included the measures to achieve formal and substantive gender equality, special temporary measures, and the absence of provisions to strengthen the power of national structures. She wanted to know how those considerations had been taken into account. Did the law provide a legal basis for strengthening gender equality institutions? What enforcement mechanisms had been introduced to impose gender equality in the field of employment? How were special measures defined and in what areas had they been introduced? How was monitoring and evaluation of the law and related policies envisioned?
CEES FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, commended the fact that, by ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention, the Government had given the women of Azerbaijan an opportunity to address grievances to the Committee, once the domestic remedies had been exhausted. However, no information had been provided on the case law of domestic courts, where the Convention had been applied. According to the explanation provided by the Government, there was no record of such cases. In that connection, he wanted to know how records were kept and how familiar the judiciary in Azerbaijan were with the provisions of the Convention. With the publication of the Optional Protocol having started only recently, he also asked if there were any training programmes in place on using the Convention in court proceedings.
FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, expressed concern that expansion of the role of the national committee for women, which had now become a State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs, strengthened the stereotypical perception of women as primarily mothers and wives.
In other comments, an expert also wondered why military service only for men was not seen as a discriminatory practice, as well as different ages for marriage for men and women. Questions were also asked about the impact on women of the country’s transition to a market economy, the functioning of the focal points within various ministries, and the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons.
Responding to those questions, a representative of the Ministry of Justice said that there were some 77 women’s organizations in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan was trying to implement the Convention and its Optional Protocol. The country’s judicial system was being reformed, and numerous new laws had been adopted since 2000, based on the recommendations of experts and the provisions of international law. On 28 December 2006, a national plan on the protection of human rights had been introduced in the country, with specific reference to the need to ensure full implementation of international human rights treaties, including the women’s Convention. The mandate of the Ombudsman -- who was a woman -- was broad and comprehensive. The Ombudsman had specific authority in cases of human rights violations and discrimination against women. The Government was also taking further measures to protect women against violence and introducing legislation on trafficking in human beings, sexual harassment and equal employment rights. Some 15 articles of the law covered acts against women.
Regarding women’s participation in the judiciary, he noted that, 37 of 308 judges were women. The Government was trying to take measures to encourage women’s interest in the work of the judiciary. Regarding crime, measures were being carried out to provide for representation for sentenced women. Azerbaijan had been working on a project with the British Council on the issue of women’s rehabilitation.
Concerning the State Committee for Family, Women and Children’s Affairs, Ms. HUSEYNOVA said the State Committee had the possibility of becoming a large ministry, given the changes that had already taken place in the last year. She understood the concern expressed. A priority issue had been the Committee’s representation in each region of the country. Its budget had already increased. The reason for the Committee’s change of name was the need for individual structures to deal exclusively with family and children’s issues. The newly adopted gender law enabled monitoring throughout the country and was an additional tool for the Committee’s work. While the former Committee included about 20 workers, the current Committee included some 50 personnel. The Committee’s task was to further activate existing structures.
Azerbaijan, after all, was only 15 years old and had a newly created legal structure, she added. Regardless of that short period of time, Azerbaijan had achieved certain successes. Each region understood the concept of gender equality. Prior to the law’s adoption, there had been much debate and opposition. A March 2006 law on the political status of women in the post-Soviet period required each ministry to include women’s representation.
Responding to questions of education, another member of the delegation said some 24 per cent of women had higher education, 30 per cent secondary education, and 40 per cent general education. The Government would be working on practical measures to strengthen education.
On the question of refugees, she noted that, following the military conflict with Armenia and the occupation of its territory, many schools, technical institutions and institutions of higher education had been destroyed. Young girls and women had been particularly affected. Women comprised a large proportion of the number of teachers. In general schools, there were some 170,000 women teachers. More female representation was needed in the management of education.
For some years, a priority area had been the need for the rehabilitation of refugees, moving women from tents to normal housing units, Ms. Huseynova said. Courses had been established for refugee women, including computer and foreign language training.
On questions of trafficking, another member of the delegation said a structure in the ministry of internal affairs was responsible for minors. Some 225 people with legal and teacher training were working against criminal organizations that were trafficking in children. Within the internal affairs ministry, a unit had been set up to combat trafficking. A specific division dealt with the issue of minors. Over the last two years, those bodies had discovered 14 cases of trafficking with children and 25 criminals had been brought to justice. The adoption of the law to combat trafficking had been successful.
Another member of the delegation addressed the issue of the definition of discrimination, noting there was no contradiction between the definition of discrimination in the Convention and the one in Azerbaijan’s constitution. While the provisions of article 1 of the Convention were not fully put into law and not transcribed exactly as they were in the Convention, the basis of article 1 was included in the law on equality between the sexes. There was, therefore, no real difference in the definition of discrimination. It was simply a slightly different drafting.
Ms. HUSEYNOVA added that the law on equality had been adopted to support a number of existing laws, including the Constitution. That law, moreover, provided for monitoring throughout the country.
Regarding whether the Government was planning to appoint women to high-level positions, she said the Soviet system of quotas had been purely formal in nature. With Azerbaijan’s transition, the problem of women’s participation was linked to the conflict and displacement of families. Deprived of their livelihoods, women were forced to take up any type of employment in order to feed their families. Many laws had been adopted and many proposals made. Nearly all Azerbaijani institutions had a high number of women, especially at the middle level, and there was considerable potential for the future.
Another delegate added that the country’s legislation included specific provisions prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, which, while not specifically invoking the Convention, were based on its provisions.
As the Committee proceeded to its next round of comments from the experts, violence against women received particular attention, with questions posed about the content and application of the draft law on violence against women, as well as efforts to prevent it. Experts also focused on negative sexual stereotypes that were still prevalent in Azerbaijan.
HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, said that the Government had the goodwill to implement the Convention and she commended it for recognizing the problems existing in society. Among those, she noted strong stereotypical roles for women and men in the society, which were reflected in widespread sex-selection abortions and the perception of men as “rulers” in the family. It was important to combat sexual stereotypes and promote equal distribution of obligations within the family. High-quality sensitization programmes should be introduced to change the traditional frame of mind among the population.
DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, said that Azerbaijan was ruled by stereotypical patriarchal attitudes. Efforts were being made to address those stereotypes, but, with few exceptions, the stereotypical attitudes continued. There was an unspoken public agreement regarding the privacy of family life, and the report referred to the reluctance of public structures to address that issue. However, women’s subordination started at home and, if the Government was reluctant to interfere, all the efforts to advance gender equality would not achieve the desired results. She asked for examples of what the Government would regard as “unnecessary interference” in family life. Also, as the school environment was one of the areas that reinforced the stereotypes, she wanted to know if the country had any plans to review textbooks in order to rid them of stereotypes.
GLENDA SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, focused on trafficking and prostitution, saying that she did not question the country’s willingness to introduce laws and improve the framework to address trafficking. Most victims were young women, who, according to today’s introduction, were leaving the country to find jobs or to marry in countries like the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Russian Federation and others. Trafficking in people was part of international organized crime and, in fact, many of those women were forced out of the country. In fact, there were men organizing women for prostitution, under the pretext of potential marriage in another country. The Government needed to prevent young women from becoming pawns in that dangerous game. She wanted to know about the number of perpetrators of trafficking that had been arrested.
Prostitution was banned in Azerbaijan, she continued. According to the report, it was punishable by a fine or community service. Were the sanctions directed at prostitutes or their clients? There would be no prostitutes, if there was no demand for prostitution, and she would like to see some men punished for that crime.
NAELA GABR, expert from Egypt, congratulated the Government for its courage in addressing violence against women, in particular in introducing draft legislation on domestic violence. However, she wanted to know what was being done to prepare society to receive the draft positively. To ensure success, it was necessary to eliminate stereotypes and sensitize the population in both urban and rural areas. Her other questions related to the sanctions for rape and harassment in the workplace. Did the Government intend to create a focal structure to deal with trafficking in a coordinated manner? How did the Government deal with refugees and internally displaced persons, so they did not fall easy prey for traffickers?
Ms. HUSEYNOVA replied that, during the first round of the consideration of the domestic violence law, the majority of legislators had recognized it as a very important problem and were in favour of its adoption. Lobbying continued to ensure support for the bill.
With media being among the key factors in promoting gender equality, she said that the Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs intended to start its own television programme and magazine. Practically every national television channel had “women’s hours”. All major publications had major headings covering women’s issues.
Another member of the delegation provided additional information on legal protection of women’s rights. According to the official information of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, during the first six months of 2006, some 77 incidents of trafficking in human beings had been registered and 83 persons had been brought to account. The country’s law on human trafficking was adopted in June 2005. It regulated legal and administrative procedures for combating human trafficking, defined the legal state of the victims, and protected and supported the victims. According to statistics, every fifth domestic violence crime was committed on the basis of jealousy or other domestic causes, while perpetrators of 95 per cent of the acts of aggression against women were punished. A special unit on trafficking in women had been created within the Ministry of the Interior.
Ms. HUSEYNOVA added that stereotypes were not only how men imagined women’s role in society, but also traditional stereotypes among women themselves. She believed the law on gender equality would receive a broad response.
Regarding stereotypes in educational curricula, another member of the delegation noted that questions of gender education were a subject of scientific research. Special courses had also been introduced at the general educational level and a course on reproductive health was taught in the fifth year. She did not agree that textbooks were patriarchal, as the country had a new scholastic plan, which, in the future, would cover all schools. Some 5,000 textbooks had been prepared and were free of charge. The educational system and the country’s higher institutions of education, received a large number of people from the regions, including refugees. All the programmes were quite accessible, both by people in the cities and in the regions.
Responding to concerns on trafficking and exploitation, another member of the delegation said certain decisions had been passed regarding the implementation of the law on trafficking. A special institution to work on behalf on the victims of trafficking had been created, as well as a fund. In 2006, the courts had considered 14 criminal cases. Trafficking was a global problem, which could not be resolved within the borders of one State. Azerbaijan followed the visions and goals of the Convention on Transborder Crime.
Another speaker noted that the Government had a special food assistance programme for internally displaced persons. Internally displaced persons were also exempt from fees in higher educational institutions and received benefits when the head of the family was lost as a result of the conflict. Many internally displaced persons also did not pay the fee for communal services.
In a follow-up question, Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, asked for further clarification on the definition of discrimination, which determined the scope of States parties’ obligations under the Convention. He was happy that the definition in Azerbaijani law prohibited both direct and indirect discrimination. He wondered, however, why some exceptions had been made in the law, including on the issues of military service and the marriage age. Also, while many women had gone to the Ombudsman, there was no information on the number of women bringing cases to the domestic courts. Was it a question of expense, lack of legal aid or lack of awareness among the judges?
Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked whether the Government was willing to invite non-governmental organizations in rethinking the domestic violence act. Also, what was the time frame for finishing the enactment of that law?
Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, regretted that most of her questions had not been answered. She strongly recommended, among other things, that the next periodic report provide the full text of the gender equality law as an annex to the report.
Responding, Ms. HUSEYNOVA said she would provide a CD with all of the legislation outlined. Regarding the situation of violence in the camps, she said it was not only a question of violence in refugee camps, but also a problem of early marriage as a result of the difficulties faced by refugee families. Young girls were often married to older men as a way to guarantee their survival. It was a very severe situation, and a religious situation beyond the powers of the State, which forbade such marriages. It would take time to do away with the problem, which was concentrated in certain frontier regions of the country.
Regarding military service, another speaker noted that, while men had the obligation to carry out military service, women could volunteer in certain functions, but did not have to fulfil military service. Women did carry out functions in certain parts of the military.
On the issue of training for judges, he said the Ministry of Justice at present was working on an Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees project to strengthen the Human Rights Commissioner. The Government had attempted to organize human rights courses for police academies and would now proceed with training for judges. A special programme had been established to make judiciary personnel familiar with the general outlines of United Nations legal instruments. Azerbaijan also had relations with the Bordeaux Judges Institute and used all means available to inform judges of the provisions of the various international documents.
Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, said that she was impressed with the legal framework that was supposed to provide for gender-balanced representation of women in political and public life in Azerbaijan. However, she did not have a clear picture of the situation on the ground and wanted to receive additional information in that regard. She wanted to know what measures were envisaged to increase women’s participation in State institutions, as well as in the health and education sectors in Azerbaijan. Also, what was being done to encourage the political parties to promote women to decision-making positions and to place them on electoral lists? Women needed to be encouraged to become an integral part of the political process.
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, added that, with women occupying only 3 per cent of higher positions in Government administration, people responsible for gender policy in various ministries should play a more active role in increasing women’s participation.
Ms. HUSEYNOVA said that, in fact, State institutions were made up of 4 per cent women. One in three vice-speakers in Parliament was a woman; 14 of 125 deputies were women. Women were being increasingly appointed to embassies and consulates abroad, with 50 of 348 such positions belonging to women. In 11 regions, the deputy executive officers were women. On the whole, the trend was improving, but of course more remained to be done. In particular, special educational programmes were needed, and several projects had been initiated with assistance from international partners.
With regard to elections, she said that some 51 per cent of the electorate were women, but women were still unsure about their own power. It was necessary to work with the population. Efforts were being made to involve women in the elections and, this year, many women had been elected to important positions in the Autonomous Republic of Nakhichevan, for example. As for the political parties, the Government could not influence their decisions. Among the novel approaches for increasing women’s participation, she mentioned a women’s coalition that had been created in response to Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women in armed conflict. Women in positions of power needed to be sure that everything was fine “on the home front”, she added. They needed services and benefits to be able to participate in public life.
Another member of the delegation said that the country’s Constitutional Court had nine constitutional judges; one of them a woman. A woman also stood at the head of the Supreme Court. That was the highest echelon of State power. Currently, 12 per cent of the country’s 308 judges were women. By the Presidential Decree to modernize the judicial system, a plan had been adopted under which 152 new vacancies would be created for the position of judges. That would radically change the situation in the country. The selection of judges took place on the basis of objective examinations, which were carefully monitored. There were many successful female candidates. The country had 50 registered political parties, and among their leaders there were women who commanded high respect.
In a follow-up comment, Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, highlighted the need for the Government to provide statistics that would present the situation in perspective. For instance, according to the information provided by the delegation, there were four female ministers, but the experts did not know how many ministries there were in Azerbaijan.
Members of the delegation said that such information could be provided to the Committee, saying that in fact, the percentage of women at various ministries was quite impressive.
As the Committee turned to women’s participation in sports, education and the labour market, questions were asked about the time frame and mechanism to assess the results of the Government’s measures to improve gender education, the policies to encourage girls to take non-traditional subjects, dropout rates for girls and the number of women at the higher level of education. Experts also asked for various statistics, including the number of women engaged in full- and part-time jobs and the situation of women with disabilities.
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, noted that the country’s report argued that there were no restrictions on the participation of women in sports. However, according to the figures presented in the same report, women participated in much smaller numbers than men in sports. Education could be undertaken to improve their participation.
Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, said that, from the report, she could not get a whole picture on women’s employment in Azerbaijan. According to the report, in 2003, women represented 50.9 per cent of the total number of the working population. Was that true? How was that compatible with the fact that women were taking care of the children?
She also commented on the wage gap, which amounted to 30 per cent, according to the report, because women were concentrated in certain sectors of employment. However, Azerbaijan had ratified many ILO conventions, including one on equal remuneration for work of equal value. The country’s laws stipulated equality in remuneration of labour between men and women doing the same jobs. However, that was not the same as equal pay for work of equal value, and a new approach for comparing work of the same value was needed.
Regarding Azerbaijan’s protective acts of legislation, she said that the country had many restrictions on pregnant women and women with children under 3, who were not allowed to do arduous work. Under the Convention, protective legislation should be reviewed periodically. If working conditions were arduous, that environment should be reviewed, but women should be allowed to participate. The report also listed measures to allow women to combine their family duties and employment. Those measures should be extended to men.
Turning to women’s health, SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked for clarifications regarding measures to tackle traditional views that could restrict women’s rights to family planning. She also noted that the country’s law on gender equality stipulated equal opportunities, but did not concern issues related to family, which contradicted the provisions of the Convention. She wanted to know if the Government intended to make an amendment to include the issues of women within the family. A recent statement by an Azerbaijani non-governmental organization had affirmed that gender stereotypes in the family led to discrimination against women in realizing their reproductive rights, and identified sex-based abortions among the issues that required attention. She wanted to receive information on how the Government was tackling that problem.
Some other questions on health related to the efforts to prevent early marriages; sterilization and the situation of the rural women.
Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, said it was difficult to get an accurate picture of women’s reproductive health. While the report indicated that women’s health status was improving, other sources provided different figures. The problem was that Azerbaijan’s definition of maternal mortality did not follow international definitions. The calculation of maternal mortality was, therefore, not the same. Another problem was the different methods of gathering and evaluating data. Availability and accessibility of services was also a problem. In that regard, she wondered whether the Government intended to consider adopting the international definition of maternal mortality. She also asked what steps the Government had taken to unify the methodologies for collecting and assessing health data. Would the Government be willing to consider expanding accessible, affordable health services, especially in the area of reproductive health services? she asked.
Ms. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, focused on the issue of rural women, especially in the mountainous regions. It was very obvious that rural folk tended to hold onto traditions more than people in urban centres. All such traditions set women at risk in terms of their health and social status. What was the Government doing to establish the proper infrastructure for isolated populations? In the brave new world of globalization and the open market, what kind of rules and legislation were in place to protect the environment and the indigenous flora and fauna on which many people in those areas depended?
Ms. GABR, expert from Egypt, asked if the Government had considered the impact of the country’s transformation to a market economy on women. What forms of assistance existed to enable rural women to establish small or micro-projects? She also asked about access of rural women to educational facilities.
Responding to the issue of sports, one member of the delegation said there were no restrictions on sports education. Much work was being done to attract young people to sports. Sporting complexes existed in many regions. While people had to pay to use those facilities, the Government was working to ensure free access for poor people. Sport at the Olympic level was developing apace. The first winner of a gold medal had, in fact, been a woman. Work was being undertaken not just to win medals, but to get them interested in a healthy way of life.
Ms. HUSEYNOVA said sport had never been a priority area for girls. Sports had traditionally not been a strong part of the country’s mentality.
Concerning economic development, another delegate said programmes to reduce poverty were a priority for the country. Different programmes existed to develop the economic status of the different regions. There was also a State fund for entrepreneurship. Women and men could apply for loans to set up their own businesses. That trend was quickly gaining ground.
Ms. HUSEYNOVA added that there was a concept of part-time or temporary work. Of the country’s 1 million refugees, many were women. The State endeavoured to support those people. Some 8,000 women had been involved in public volunteer work. From 1997 to 2005, some 40,000 women had been given jobs, according to a quota system. A labour exchange in certain regions provided women with temporary work. “Working villages” had also been set up. Women refugees were given jobs and received special contracts from oil companies to produce the equipment they needed. A large percentage of people received child benefits. Women were free to choose whether they wanted to work or stay at home with their children. The elderly and disabled received social services. Many people had, unfortunately, been disabled as the result of the armed conflict. Certain benefits were given to those people.
Regarding health services, she said work was under way in terms of the country’s programme for reproductive health and family planning, including administrative structures. While contraceptive services were provided free of charge, there were certain religious factors and the idea that a child was given by God and that pregnancy should not be interrupted. It was a delicate question. Family planning was undoubtedly a gap in the country’s education. Abortions did lead to negative consequences sometimes, with parents opting for sons over girls. Such questions were being considered. She agreed that men must participate in the problems of the family.
In the last few years, 27 family planning centres had been set up. While the centres met international standards, there was a problem in providing the professional workers to staff them. While measures were being taken to address the problem, preventive measures were needed, especially in terms of selective abortions. She had never met any women who confessed to being forced by their husbands to have abortions. Many women believed their status went up when they gave birth to male children. The Government was doing serious work to overcome such serious issues.
Concerning education, another member of the delegation said a national plan had been worked out to monitor the legal status of equality. Early marriage for girls was a great concern. Compulsory education was being introduced for girls and boys. All girls could basically read and write at some level. Regarding women’s representation in the power structures of education, some 40.3 per cent of teachers were women. There were some 130,000 students in college and the gender ratio was equal. Women were in charge of 7 per cent of colleges. Women’s education level was determined by the literacy of society as a whole. Educational reforms meant that each Azerbaijani woman now could receive an education.
Development of rural schools was among the Government’s priorities, she added. However, it was no secret that graduates of pedagogical colleges often preferred to stay in the city environment. To address that problem, the Government was seeking to introduce incentives and benefits for rural teachers. Regarding non-traditional subjects of studies, she was not clear what the experts meant. Girls and boys had equal opportunities to get an education in Azerbaijan. There should be an equal approach, irrespective of gender, as far as organization of the educational process was concerned.
On disabilities, a member of the delegation said that, irrespective of gender, a person’s disability was categorized by a special expert commission, and benefits were provided on the basis of that determination. Regarding women’s employment, she said that the majority of women were employed in education, health, social protection and sports-oriented sectors. Many were also engaged in the arts.
Men and women had equal rights to employment and remuneration, and discrimination was out of the question, another delegate said. They were also free to choose their field of occupation. Azerbaijan had signed 55 ILO conventions, and its legislation was in accordance with those treaties. Under article 25 of the Constitution, the State guaranteed equal rights and freedoms for all, regardless of race, national origin, religion, language, gender, property status, occupation, or membership in political parties or organizations. The Criminal Code of the country set responsibility for breaking a contract with a pregnant woman or a woman who had children under the age of 3. If a woman wanted, she could take maternal leave. There were also sanctions for breaking such laws. Social security legislation provided for 15 types of benefits, including those for people with disabilities, for maintaining a child under the age of 16, and for mothers of small children.
Turning to microcredit, a member of the delegation said that a person receiving credit was supposed to mortgage property, but some applicants were not educated about the banks’ terms. Some 25,000 women entrepreneurs had received credit in accordance with the terms and regulations of the banks.
Responding to a question by Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, who wondered if the fact that male sterilization was not performed in Azerbaijan represented discrimination, Ms. HUSEYNOVA said that, in certain cases, sterilization of men took place, but there were no specific regulations in that regard. It was a matter of free choice. She also did not believe that massive sterilization of women took place in Azerbaijan.
As the Committee turned to women’s family situation, Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, commended the country’s Family Code, but urged the Government to raise the women’s age of marriage to 18, to bring it to the same level as the minimum age of marriage for men. The current difference in the minimum age of marriage represented discrimination. She also wondered if traditional religious marriage was valid under the country’s laws. Up to 70 per cent of brides in the southern regions of the country were underage girls as young as 12. She wanted to know what was being done to stop that practice and wondered how such marriages were treated, once they became known to the authorities.
Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, echoed the concern about underage marriages and asked about cohabitation within religious marriages and without registration. She wondered about the rights of women with respect to joint property and inheritance. The report was also lacking as far as the spouses’ rights in divorce were concerned. Her other concern related to the fact that, following privatization of lands, about 90 per cent of new land owners were men. What was being done to correct such discriminatory practices?
Ms. HUSEYNOVA replied that, while there were no statistics regarding the number of child brides, she wondered where the information presented by the expert came from. While early marriage did exist in several areas of the country, they certainly did not represent 70 per cent of all marriages. The problem had recently been addressed at a conference, and the question of equalizing the minimum age of marriage for men and women was currently under consideration.
A member of the delegation added that, under the Family Code, with proper steps, the age of marriage could be lowered in Azerbaijan, but child marriages were not recognized. A spouse’s infidelity did not represent grounds to deprive a woman from her right to child alimony. A woman could lose alimony if she lost her parental rights, however. Azerbaijan was a secular democratic State, and religious marriages were not recognized under the State law. People involved in religious marriage still needed to register their marriage in a civil ceremony. Only then did spouses acquire a right to communal property.
The Chairperson of the meeting, Ms. DAIRIAM, thanked the delegation for its constructive participation in today’s debate. The Government had introduced an impressive list of policies for the advancement of women. The laws put in place in Azerbaijan clearly indicated the political will of the Government, she said. The issue for the Committee was to see how those measures were really benefiting women. The data to assess the real situation was not really available.
Ms. HUSEYNOVA, in her concluding remarks, welcomed the fact that the experts had acknowledged the frankness of the Government’s reports. Azerbaijan was a young republic, building a democratic society on the basis of the rule of law. Problems confronted by Azerbaijan were not unique. To avoid inaccuracies and omissions, the Government would submit its responses in writing, along with additional information in connection with the questions posed today.
* *** *For information media • not an official record