23 January 2007
General Assembly
WOM/1599

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

Chamber B, 765th & 766th Meetings (AM & PM)


ADDRESSING WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE, AUSTRIA CLAIMS SIGNIFICANT


PROGRESS IN INTEGRATING GENDER EQUITY INTO POLITICAL, LABOUR, LEGAL AREAS


But Experts Raise Tough Questions about Country’s

Reservations to Convention Provision on Equal Employment Opportunities


Austria had made significant progress in integrating gender equity policy into various political, labour and legal spheres, Ambassador and head of Austria’s delegation Ferdinand Trauttmansdorff told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women as he presented his country’s sixth periodic report on the implementation of the Convention.


The delegation, however, faced tough questions about its reservations on article 11 of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women regarding equal employment opportunities, and the extent to which the Equal Treatment Commission would combat discrimination in all spheres of life, as its current mandate focused only on the labour field.


In response, one delegate noted that Austria was bound by European Union policy in terms of erasing gender and racial discrimination in employment.  On the Equal Treatment Act, another delegate said the European Council Directive on equal treatment had come into power at the end of 2004.   Austria was trying to implement it in a timely manner in order to provide equal protection for women and ethnic minorities in employment by the end of 2007.


Noting that Austria’s new Government had taken office on 11 January, Mr. Trauttmansdorff said the new Minister for Women’s Affairs would be associated with the Prime Minister’s office, and was thus well placed for realizing Austria’s gender policy goals.


An inter-ministerial working group had been established in 2000 to support gender mainstreaming at all political levels, and a 2004 Government decision had emphasized introducing “gender budgeting” to analyze budgetary measures for their impact on women, he said.  Moreover, women’s job opportunities would be improved by establishing qualitative targets for labour market policies, while funding for the Ombud Office for Equality Issues would be upgraded.


Discussing legislation and law enforcement institutions on equal treatment, including the Equal Treatment Commissions and the Labour Court, he noted the legal basis for equal treatment had been improved by amendments made in 2004 to Austria’s equal treatment law.  In the area of education, he noted that co-education, or the integrated education of girls and boys, had won full acceptance at Austrian schools.


Other questions by experts centred on anti-trafficking and whether the Criminal Procedure Reform Act, to come into force in January 2008, would contain clauses to address victims who were illegal migrants.


One delegate responded that the Act had restructured key elements of the criminal procedure system.   Austria had transformed all international acts on the mandatory criminalization of human trafficking into domestic law and created an inter-ministerial “Task Force on Human Trafficking”, which had drafted a National Action Plan against Human Trafficking.


The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 24 January, to consider the Netherlands’ fourth periodic report on Aruba.


Background


Experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met in Chamber B this morning to consider the second and third periodic reports of Austria.


The delegation was headed by Ferdinand Trauttmansdorff of the Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs and included:  Doris Guggenberger of the Federal Ministry for Education, Science and Culture; Christine Holzer of the Federal Ministry of the Interior; Elisabeth Kogler of the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Sylvia Kolbl of the Federal Ministry for Health and Women; Ingrid Nikolay-Leitner of the Federal Ministry for Health and Women; Petra Smutny of the Federal Ministry of Justice; Katharina Stiegler of the Federal Chancellery; Lilly Sucharipa of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Waste Management; Irmtraud Weinke of the Federal Ministry for Health and Women; and Birgit Westermayer of the Federal Ministry of the Interior.


Ambassador and head of Austria’s delegation FERDINAND TRAUTTMANSDORFF, presented his country’s sixth periodic report on the implementation of the Convention, noting that Austria’s new Government had taken office on 11 January, he said the new Minister for Women’s Affairs would be associated with the Prime Minister’s office, and was thus well placed for realizing Austria’s gender policy goals.


Equality of opportunity and equal pay, equality in employment and the protection of women against violence were key concerns, he continued.  On equality policy, women’s job opportunities would be improved by establishing qualitative targets for labour market policies.  Funding for the Ombud Office for Equality Issues also would be upgraded.  Further, the Government was determined to combat female poverty by anchoring a minimum wage of 1,000 Euro in a national, cross-sectoral collective agreement.  Ongoing measures to balance work and family demands would be enhanced, with childcare benefit provisions to be made more flexible.


Discussing legislation and law enforcement institutions on equal treatment, including the Equal Treatment Commissions and the Labour Court, he noted the legal basis for equal treatment had been improved by amendments made in 2004 to Austria’s equal treatment law.


Regarding gender mainstreaming, an inter-ministerial working group had been established in 2000 to support gender mainstreaming at all political levels.  A 2004 Government decision had emphasized introducing “gender budgeting” to analyze budgetary measures for their impact on women.  On gender mainstreaming in health care, gathering key indicators on health planning was essential.   Austria had disaggregated available health data and compared them with European Union and non-EU figures in drawing up its Second Austrian Health Report in 2005.  A guideline for implementing gender mainstreaming in hospitals also had been recently published.


Gender mainstreaming was important in education, he continued, noting that co-education, the integrated education of girls and boys, had won full acceptance.  The introduction of an educational principle was to support ongoing efforts to establish a new co-educative practice.  Gender equality was a guiding principle for the Austrian Development Cooperation.


Turning to Austria’s implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), he said Austria was supporting a United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) project in South-Eastern Europe that facilitated bilateral and subregional consultations among women in political decision-making positions.  In 2007, similar programmes would be supported in Africa, and Austria was working on a National Action Plan that aimed to increase the number of women participating in peace operations of the European Union, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations. 


On equality policies, he said Austria had developed indicators for women and health during its 2006 European Union presidency, in line with its implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.  Further, the country had co-organized a conference in May 2006 on “Closing the Gender Pay Gap”, the first ever to gather all social partners at the European level.


On domestic violence, he said amendments had been made to the Protection against Violence Act to protect minors against sexual abuse and had removed differentiation between rape and sexual coercion within and outside marriage.


Regarding anti-trafficking, Austria had transformed all international acts on the mandatory criminalization of human trafficking into domestic law, he continued.  Other national measures, including the creation of an inter-ministerial “Task Force on Human Trafficking”, had been taken.  That body had drafted a National Action Plan against Human Trafficking, which would be adopted shortly.


On women in decision-making positions, he said a cross-mentoring programme had been launched two years ago at the federal level and had been expanded to the provinces.  A business mentoring project also had been created in the private sector.  Additionally, the first part of a “Women in Austria 2003-2006” report, which aggregated all reports published in the period under review, had been published.


Experts’ Questions and Comments -– Articles 1-6


DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, said reservations remained on article 11 of the Convention, which concerned employment.  What were the main obstacles to withdrawing them?  Austria appeared to be providing equal rights in employment.  Was it considering withdrawal of the remaining reservation to article 11?


MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked about the extent of the mandate of the Equal Treatment Commission.  Why was it assumed that gender-based discrimination called for provisions on equal treatment only in labour?  Women were affected by discriminatory practices in other spheres of life as well.  She asked the delegation to clarify its views and plans concerning article 4.1 and on the Committee’s recommendation 25 on special temporary measures.


ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, expressed concern that the frequent replacing of ministries dealing with women’s issues and frequent transferring of ministerial mandates would negatively affect the Government’s work in women’s protection and empowerment.  What was the Government doing to minimize that negative impact?  How was the Government ensuring smooth and sustained implementation of policies related to the Convention and monitoring of the Convention?  How was that being dealt with in the provinces and what were the corresponding organizational structures at the local level?  Did the delegation have any ideas on how to better monitor the Convention and implement the Committee’s recommendations?


SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, asked who at the national level coordinated the work of various ministries in implementing the Convention.  What were that body’s strengths and weaknesses?  Was there a national plan of action with an established time frame for implementing the Convention?  Was there a mechanism to monitor implementation?  How were federal and local efforts to implement the Convention coordinated?  Who monitored progress in promoting more women in ministerial posts?  Why was the gender mainstreaming emphasis merely on recruitment and not also on the substantive work of the ministries?  Did the Viennese Symphony Orchestra still prohibit female musicians?


Committee Chairwoman, FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, asked if there were sanctions imposed on employers who did not comply with the Equal Treatment Act.  Was there a good Conduct Code?  Had the Government launched campaigns to promote sharing between men and women of domestic duties?


TIZIANA MAIOLO, expert from Italy, asked about the daily challenges facing the Austrian Government to ensure equal treatment.  What was being done in schools, the media and the family?


Country Response


Concerning night work, one delegate said the European Union Adjustment Act on Night Work entered into force in August 2002.  There had been a transition period to fully implement the law.


Another delegate said legislation concerning exposure to lead poisoning was pending.  In that regard, Austria was still bound to an International Labour Organization agreement.  That would change this year.  Austrian legislation concerning hard physical labour must be taken into account.  For those reasons, the reservation to article 11 of the Convention had not been withdrawn yet.  The process was ongoing.


Concerning the provisions of the Equal Treatment Act and the focus on labour versus other areas, another delegate said the European Council Directive on equal treatment had come into power at the end of 2004.   Austria was trying to implement it in a timely manner in order to provide equal protection for women and ethnic minorities in employment by the end of 2007.


Another delegate noted that Austria was bound by European Union policy in terms of erasing gender and racial discrimination in employment.


In terms of article 4.1 of the Convention and temporary special measures, another delegate said that, since inception of the 1993 Act on Equal Treatment in Federal Services, Austria had had a very comprehensive system of temporary measures to promote women’s advancement in public services and employment.  For example, the Plan of Women’s Advancement of the Ministry for Health and Women had established quotas for women in Government posts as well as required gender-sensitivity training for supervisors and job training for women.  Women could file complaints with the Equal Treatment Commission and many had done so in the last few years.


Regarding the frequent change in the ministerial structure addressing women’s issues, a delegate said the Law for Repetition of Ministries would be adopted on Thursday.  The newly formed ministry dealing with women’s affairs would have a comprehensive mandate.  The Prime Minister’s Office -– known as the Federal Chancellory -– was the main body coordinating women’s issues and had the greatest impact on gender equality policies and programmes.  The Minister for Women’s Affairs was placed under the Federal Chancellory’s direct supervision in order to strengthen the Minister’s mandate. 


Another delegate said it was a tricky time to answer the question because the Government was in the process of ministerial restructuring.  The new Minister for Women’s Affairs would work closely with non-governmental organizations.  She would focus on promoting gender equality in the labour force, helping women balance family and professional life, narrowing the gender pay gap and promoting women to leadership posts, among other goals. 


In terms of implementation of the Convention in the provinces, another delegate said in many areas provincial governments were autonomous.  The Federal Government, however, would instruct governors and local authorities on how to implement international covenants like the Convention.


On the development of a National Plan of Action, one delegate noted that none had been created; however, intensive discussion among non-governmental organizations and ministries on establishing one was under way.  Efforts would be made to bring that issue to the new Minister.


Turning to Austria’s human resources policy, another delegate noted that the number of women in high ranking posts in the Ministry of Agriculture had not increased.  As to why, she responded that the Ministry traditionally had hired a high percentage of male civil servants.  In recent years, however, activities to raise the number of women in higher ranking positions had been increased.  In the lower ranks, she said statistics showed that the number of men and women in that Ministry were close at 57 per cent men and 43 per cent women.  Great attempts were under way to bring women into management positions, particularly through training programmes.


On restrictive recruitment policies, referring to page 35 of the report, another delegate explained that there was a cap on recruitment, making it hard to increase the recruitment of women.  In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the last exam had showed that the majority of young diplomats taken in were women.


Responding to a question on the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, another delegate said it had been employing female musicians for the last few years.  The law –- and attitudes -- had changed.  Several media laws prohibited discrimination on the grounds of gender.  The Private Television Act and the Private Radio Act, among others, stated that programmes must respect the human dignity and rights of others.  Provisions in those acts also stated that advertising could not include discrimination on the grounds of gender.


Addressing stereotypes, another delegate said the educational principle, introduced in 1995, had been integrated into all curriculums.  Training courses had been provided to teachers and two evaluation studies on that principle had been conducted.  The first, covering the 1997-1999 period, showed that, while the principle had been perceived as important, its practical application had varied widely.  The follow-up study focused on teacher training and had been embedded in a 2001-2004 gender mainstreaming project for teacher training academies.


On media education, she said the Ministry of Education had provided information including downloadable articles on how gender was constructed in the media.  Home economics education was obligatory in secondary schools and 72 per cent of all boys attending those schools were instructed on the subject.


Experts’ Questions and Comments


Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ from Croatia, referring to violence against women, said a report from Austrian non-governmental organizations had noted concern at the lack of an established body responsible for cooperation with non-governmental organizations in the area of violence against women.  What was the Government’s response to that issue?


Noting it was the State’s obligation to create and finance shelters, she wondered whether there was data on the number of women needing them.  Were there plans to expand the number of shelters?


On data compilation, she asked whether Austria had data on the number of women murdered each year by their former husbands or partners.  If not, were there plans for creating a database of indicators on how to combat violence against women?  Further, were any awareness campaigns under way targeting violence against women and domestic violence?


Ms. CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, referring to trafficking, welcomed the Criminal Procedure Reform Act, which would come into force in January 2008.  She wondered whether there were any clauses in it to address victims who were illegal migrants.  What could the Government do to adequately support non-governmental organizations, for example, in terms of budget allocation or cost-benefit studies?  How did ministries prepare personnel?  Further, had there been bilateral or multilateral agreements on combating trafficking in persons, other than those at the European Union level?


Country Response


Addressing cooperation between the Government and non-governmental organizations on preventing violence against women, one delegate said the Prevention Council in the Ministry of the Interior had been established in 1997.  The Government was also in regular contact with non-governmental organizations on a bilateral basis.


Cooperation between the Ministry of Justice and non-governmental organizations was steadily improving, another delegate added, especially in establishing provisions on stalking.  Noting that the Ministry of Justice was a member of the Prevention Council, she said an inter-ministerial working group on support for victims during criminal proceedings also had been established in recent years.


On the number of women’s shelters for victims of domestic violence, there were 705 throughout Austria, another delegate mentioned.  Financing was carried out at the regional level; however, she acknowledged the need for more shelters.


Turning to compilation of data on victims of domestic violence, the Ministry of the Interior did not collect that data.


Statistics on conviction rates and restraining orders were often difficult to gather and none had been disaggregated, another delegated added.  Results from a study on the implementation of psycho-social and legal support for victims during legal proceedings were expected in March.

On awareness raising, another delegate said the Ministry for Health and Women had contributed to campaigns, including the “Women are Right” brochure that had been distributed to women’s counselling institutions, among other places.  Projects funded by the Prevention Council existed and a “Behind the Curtain” exhibition dealing with violence in the family had been shown in six provinces.


On trafficking, another delegate said the Criminal Procedure Reform Act of 2004 had restructured key elements of the criminal procedure system.  It would enter into force in January 2008 and should improve support for victims during criminal proceedings.  Regarding intervention centres to help victims, she said the Ministry of Justice had spent 2 million euros in the 2005-2006 period on various institutions, some of which had supported legal and psycho-social assistance for women during criminal proceedings.


Services available for trafficking victims had encompassed housing in an emergency shelter and the possibility for emergency medical and psychological assistance, she said, noting that those services were available irrespective of resident status.


On migrant trafficking victims, another delegate said the Act on Settlement and Residence allowed any victim preparing to appear in court to achieve residence for those proceedings.  The Humanitarian Residence Title also was applicable to victims.  Moreover, every victim of trafficking was free to request asylum.


Concerning bilateral agreements with other countries, she said Austria had bilateral agreements with Ukraine and Romania and supported priorities set by international associations, such as the European Union.  On funding for organizations that supported victims, she said Austria supported international standards, including those set by the International Organization on Migration.


Experts’ Questions and Comments


Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, wondered how to ensure coherent action in gender mainstreaming without an action plan.


MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, referring to efforts to ensure that girls’ talents were being developed to counteract stereotypes, wondered what was being done to help boys counteract stereotypes.


HAZEL GUMEDE SHELTON, expert from South Africa, asked what the policy would be on gathering statistics on violence against women.  What did present studies show about the causes of violence against women?


Country Response


On the development of a gender mainstreaming implementation plan, one delegate responded that the Inter-Ministerial Working Group for Gender Mainstreaming, established in 2000, was tasked with the exchange of information, development of criteria and exchange of best practice, among other things.


Regarding stereotyping, another delegate said several measures existed including talent checks, career information fairs and prizes for women in the fields of communication and engineering.  In that context, another delegate added that men were needed in social occupations such as nursery school teachers and in health care.  Material was available for teachers removing gender hierarchies among boys and a project was under way to create a “Boys Day”.  Counselling centres co-financed at the ministry level, also existed.


On statistics on violence against women, another delegate said statistics on sexual offences or restraining orders did exist; however, it was difficult for the Ministry of Justice to interpret them.  The Ministry took advantage of databases in the Ministry of the Interior on violence against women and used information from non-governmental organizations.


Experts’ Questions and Comments –- Articles 7-9


FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, asked the delegation to elaborate on the 2002 University Act to promote women academics and whether it could help remove gender discrimination in high-level posts.  How many women were employed in the Foreign Service and how many women were heading diplomatic missions?  How many ethnic minority women held top rural administration posts?  The delegation had noted that women’s participation was low in decision-making.  Just 16 per cent of businesses with more than 50 employees were headed by women directors.  Why was women’s participation so low in the formal and informal sectors?  Could not temporary special measures be used to achieve targets to promote women in public and political life?


Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, noted the progress in expanding women’s participation and representation in the National Assembly and Constitutional Court, but said such advances were small considering Austria was a major European Union player.  More efforts were needed.  Just one of Austria’s nine State governors was a woman and only 9 per cent of mayoral posts were held by women.  With 59 per cent female representation, the Green Party was the only political party in which women accounted for more than 50 per cent of the membership.  She urged Austria to use temporary special measures in line with article 4.1 of the Convention to boost women’s participation.  Despite an excellent federal equal opportunity law, women were underrepresented in high State administration posts.


Ms. GUMEDE SHELTON, expert from South Africa, asked if the 2004 amendment to the 1993 Law on Equal Treatment in Federal Services had led to a marked improvement in ensuring that more women obtained international posts.  She noted the low percentage of women in ambassadorial and other Foreign Service posts.  Had any studies been conducted on article 8?  She asked the delegation to elaborate on admission policies for women in the Foreign Service.  What selection criteria were being used?  Had those policies facilitated women’s participation in the Foreign Service?  Did the delegation have statistics for 2006? 


Committee Chairwoman, FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, asked if there had been an increase in the number of women candidates for political office.  What was the gender composition of the new Government?  How many posts had been allocated for women as compared to the past?  What political parties besides the Green Party had made efforts to put women in managerial posts?  Consultative Councils were increasingly advising Government bodies on policy and programming.  Was Austria’s Government ensuring that women were properly represented in those Councils?


Country Response


Regarding women’s representation in political office, a delegate said that, from 1999 to 2005, 40 per cent of public officers were women.  Women heads of units, departments and divisions rose from 18.2 per cent to 27.2 per cent over that period.  The new Government set a quota to fill 40 per cent of posts with women, up from 20 per cent under the previous administration.  Eighteen per cent of judges in the Administrative High Court were women.  Thirty per cent of all high court judge posts must be filled by women.


Article 10 of the Act in Equal Treatment in Federal Service required that there be equal numbers of men and women in the Federal Service.  The same was true for commissions.


Another delegate said women accounted for 48 per cent of the entire staff of the Ministry of Justice.  There were 23 female judges.  Ten of the women judges worked part-time, while five of the male judges worked part-time.  Ten of the 57 Supreme Court judges were women.  The new President of the Supreme Court was a woman, the first time a woman had held that post.


Another delegate said that in 2005 women filled 24 per cent of decision-making posts at the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and 20 per cent of posts in overseas missions.  The number of women in ambassadorial posts had jumped from 9 per cent in 2003 to 17 per cent in 2005, Austria’s Foreign Minister was a woman, and so was her predecessor.


In terms of the Foreign Ministry entrance exam, there was no direct affirmative action policy.  People were admitted to the Ministry based on performance, a delegate said.  During the last exam, women performed better than men.  For the first time, the Speaker of National Parliament and the Third Speaker of Parliament were women.


Another delegate said women accounted for 23.7 per cent of university senate posts, 82 per cent of the directorate and 29 per cent of the university council.  Women headed 38 per cent of university administrative units and 27 per cent of vice rector posts.  No university in Austria was headed by a woman.  The University Act had come into effect in 2004 and contained implicit references throughout the text on women’s empowerment in academia.  The Federal Equal Treatment Act was applicable to universities and university management was involved in gender mainstreaming and gender impact assessment projects.  The Government in cooperation with universities and university data warehouses had developed and would implement gender benchmarks in university policies and programming.


Regarding quotas for women’s representation in political parties, another delegate said the quota was 50 per cent for the Green Party and 40 per cent for the Socialist Party.  The Austrian People’s Party and Freedom Party did not have quotas.  At 37.5 per cent, Upper Austria had the highest percentage of women in local parliament, and women held 46.7 per cent of provincial government posts.


No gender specific data was available on recent local election results.


Experts’ Questions and Comments –- Articles 10-14


PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked if the Government had held consultations on article 11 of the Convention concerning employment.  Was there increasing diversification in women’s occupational choices?  Were they gaining upward mobility in the labour market?  How was the Equal Treatment Act being monitored?  What mechanisms were in place to implement section 11 on pay criteria?  How was the Government addressing part-time worker pay, given the increasing number of women working part-time?  What measures were there to protect women with atypical employment contracts?  Did women have access to effective job training in non-traditional areas?  Were there any programmes for women re-entering the labour market?


Ms. XIAOQIAO, expert from China, asked for data on the highest level position occupied by part-time women workers.  Would all jobs be open to part-time workers?  The country report noted that 70 per cent of women said they decided to work part time due to family reasons.  What specifically were those reasons?  What was the educational level and ethnicity of part-time women workers?  She requested information on women subjected to on-the-job harassment, age and gender discrimination.  What steps were being taken to end that?  How long was maternity leave and was it applicable to everyone?


Ms. GUMEDE SHELTON, expert from South Africa, asked for statistics on women’s employment.  What was the difference between part-time workers and marginal part-time workers?  What kinds of positions did full-time women workers hold versus part-time women workers?


Ms. ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, expressed concern about women engaged in low-paying part-time jobs.  She asked whether there was job security for part-time job seekers and other initiatives to reduce the gender pay gap.  Was the employment policy applicable to the informal sector?


On the lack of adequate child care facilities, what was the Government doing?  How many facilities were run by the Government versus non-governmental organizations?  Were they affordable for part-time workers?  Also, she asked about efforts to ensure equality of pensions for single and divorced elderly women.  What measures had been taken to place migrant women in the job market?


Country Response


One delegate, addressing Austria’s partial withdrawal of its reservation to article 11, said information on the new Government’s plans would be forwarded.


Another delegate noted that the employment rate of women was increasing.  In the fourth quarter of 2006, it had reached 64 per cent, meaning that Austria had achieved reaching 60 per cent by 2010.  Further, a comprehensive political strategy had been put into place last year to promote flexibility in the labour market and modernization of work organizations.


Statistics had showed that the gender pay gap in Austria had improved, she continued.  Under the Labour Promotion Scheme, women accounted for 55 per cent of all those who had received support.  Other measures to close the gap included those to cut gender segregation.


Another delegate addressed plans to introduce a minimum wage of 14,000 euros annually, which would especially favour women.  On the pay gap, he said studies had attributed its causes, in part, to the different positions of women and men in the labour market.


On child care facilities, he said progress had been made.  The new Minister of Women would like to increase them by 50,000 in coming years.


Concerning the role of women in social security schemes, he said the labour market had created some negative implications.  However, access to the pension system had been eased and pension reform had reduced the required minimum employment period to seven years.  Noting that better access would increase the number of women eligible for a pension, he said the monthly pension level of mothers would increase to 50 euros per child.


Turning to job evaluation and pay schemes in private enterprises, another delegate said there was a lack of data in the private sector.  Most enterprises did not have gender segregated statistics or job evaluation systems.  She noted that the last Supreme Court decision -– passed in 1998 -– put the responsibility on the employer to pay equally for work of equal value.  Sexual harassment was defined as discrimination under the Austrian Equal Treatment Law, she added.


On child care benefits, another delegate said the ceiling of earnings would be raised.  People would have the option to decide between 440 euros for 30 months, or 800 euros per month for 15 months, which would give fathers more incentives to engage in child care.


Concerning migrant women and the labour market, she said Austria had the second highest level of working-aged foreigners in the European Union and that changes to migrant laws had been made in recent years.  Since 2000, Austria had eased access to the labour market for those affected by European Union directives.  To improve opportunities for women migrants and to decrease the difference in the employment rates between Austrians and migrants, orientation and language programmes would be implemented.  Technology courses to improve women’s access to higher-qualified fields also would be offered.


Experts’ Questions and Comments


Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, was interested in the right to residence and work for migrant women.  What would be the focus of the Action Plan for migrant women?  On women asylum seekers and refugees, she applauded the entry into force of the Aliens’ Law package, but noted that administrative detention of asylum seekers had increased.  Could the panel provide more information on that issue?  Did alternatives to detention exist, especially for women victims of gender-based violence?  Were there any measures for women forced into prostitution?  Had there been an assessment of women’s needs within minority communities?


Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, referring to Austria’s 2003-2004 social report, said there was a feminization of poverty in Austria.  Noting that 13.2 per cent of the population was threatened by poverty and that 54.7 per cent of those people were women, she addressed the difference of remuneration for men and women.  On average, women earned only two thirds of what men earned, which seemed to be flagrant discrimination.  Female blue-collar workers were particularly disadvantaged.  Some 52 per cent of women employed with children under the age of 15 years were in a situation that did not allow them to earn what they needed.


ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, referring to article 14, wondered whether programmes such as the “Leader Plus” programme had positively impacted rural women.


On agriculture holdings, she said that 41 per cent of holdings of up to 20 hectares in size were managed by women.  How many were owned by women?  How many women farm hands existed and were they migrant workers?  What was their average salary?  Did they have social security benefits?  Additionally, what progress had been made in the area of education for rural women?


Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked whether the mother-child card scheme had included immigrant and rural women.  How had it been funded and what was covered?  Could the panel provide statistics on disease reduction since implementation of the programme?


On health issues, she asked whether women migrants were covered by health insurance and if counselling was given to them.  While commending the Government for improving gynaecological care for women with disabilities, she asked about the impact of health check points.  Was data available on them?  Victims of trafficking were not entitled to health care services.  Could the panel explain that position?


Pointing out that Austria’s compliance with European Union agricultural policies had impacted women on small farms, she asked about measures taken to support small farmers.  Additionally, women had comprised only one quarter of the Agriculture Ministry.  How would the Government increase their involvement in environmental decision-making at all levels?


Country Response


Regarding an independent right of residence of migrant women, a delegate said a woman could achieve those rights in cases of the death of the husband and divorce.  Victims of domestic violence had the right of residence as well.


Concerning detention for women asylum seekers, the delegate said women were not put in detention but were usually housed with their children in regular dwellings until their asylum application process was completed.


Regarding action plans for migrant women, she said that, while there was no specific action plan, migrants were underprivileged and in need of guidance.  A new Government programme aimed to assist them.


In terms of health care for prostitutes, an institution set up in December 2004 offered full physical exams and mental health counselling free of charge.  Foreign prostitutes without health check cards or resident permits were eligible for such services.


Another delegate said Austrian law guaranteed health-care benefits for victims of trafficking.  The Government paid for that treatment on a case-by-case basis.  Victims of trafficking who obtained resident permits on humanitarian grounds also received health-care benefits.


Another delegate said the average poverty rate was 12 per cent.  It was 13 per cent for women and 11 per cent for men.  That was below the European average.  The new Government had made the fight against poverty a main priority.


Another delegate said the “Leader Plus” programme was implemented through partnerships with local actors.  Its impact could be seen in measures for diversification for women’s employment in rural areas.  In rural areas, women accounted for 37 per cent of applicants for training subsidies and received 42 per cent of training budgets.  Statistics on jointly owned agricultural holdings were not available.  However, she noted that farm managers received subsidies not farm owners.  From 2000 to 2006, 30 million euros had been spent on adult education in rural areas. 


In terms of the impact of European Union agricultural policies on small farms, she said European Union subsidies were traditionally given according to a farm’s size.  However, structural subsidies had been changed to development subsidies particularly for environmental sustainability and for assisting farmers in mountainous and marginalized areas.


Concerning how the asylum law dealt with gender-based violence, women victims of violence received treatment throughout the asylum-granting process.  Such violence was recognized as justification for asylum and refugee status.


Regarding the mother-child health pass programme, another delegate said the programme gave pregnant women full prenatal exams and annually monitored the health of their newborns for five years.  Migrant women were entitled to the same benefits.  A migrant friendly hospital was located in Vienna.  Its women’s health centre offered counselling in various languages. 


Experts’ Questions and Comments -– Articles 15-16


Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, asked about the impact of the family law justice system on women.  How many divorces had taken place in the last three years and what was the divorce rate?  How long did it take to process divorce applications and grant divorces?  Did Austria offer free legal aid to women seeking divorce in order to escape from abusive or violent marriages?  How many women used such services in the last three years?  How many divorce applications by women in abusive marriages had been repealed and on what grounds?  Who settled cases?  The country report said women in single parent households were most at risk for falling into the poverty trap.  What was being done to help them?


Country Response


Regarding access to family courts and free legal aid, a delegate said women with low income levels received free divorce education.  Figures on divorce in the last three years were not immediately available and would be provided within a few days.  Women victims of domestic violence could request divorce and restraining orders against their perpetrators.  The 2005 Protection against Violence Act gave police permission to enter premises of alleged victims.  In cases where police did not find sufficient basis for prosecuting an alleged perpetrator, the perpetrator was not evicted from the shared dwelling.


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For information media • not an official record