|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
Chamber B, 793rd & 794th Meetings (AM & PM)
anti-discrimination committee calls for further steps to raise visibility,
increase impact of women’s programmes in estonia
Along with improvements in Estonia’s legal and institutional framework for gender equality, further measures were needed to increase the visibility and impact of government programmes and to improve opportunities for the country’s women, several members of the Committee monitoring implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women said today.
Estonia -– a Baltic country with a population of some 1.3 million -– was one of two countries presenting their reports to the 23 independent experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in parallel meetings. Its fourth periodic report -- introduced by Marina Kaljurand, Ambassador at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs -– presents new legislation and proposed mechanisms for the advancement of women, including the newly created office of the Gender Equality Commissioner and the Gender Equality Council to be established next year under Estonia’s Gender Equality Act of 2004. The country’s Gender Equality Bureau was reorganized in 2004, becoming the Gender Equality Department in 2004.
At the same time the report describes strong gender prejudices, characterized by a traditional division of labour and the prevalence of so-called “men’s and women’s jobs”; discrimination in hiring and wage polices; insufficient representation of women in decision-making; and little participation by men in family-related duties. The document explains widespread inequality by citing traditional gender roles and the “stereotypic belief that women and men have preconditions and skills that are inborn and not acquired”.
However, country representatives pointed out, that attitude was gradually changing, due largely to government efforts to inform and train the public and target groups, prepare and disseminate relevant materials, and raise the administrative capacity of State agencies to detect discrimination against women and reduce gender inequality. In the last few years particular, the media’s portrayal of gender roles had improved significantly. The Gender Equality Department had been consulted on a wide range of gender-equality issues, such as wage gaps, the number of women in executive jobs and the number of men taking parental leave. Overall, important changes were taking place in Estonian society, and gender equality was being taken much more seriously.
While commending the delegation for its frank presentation and their dialogue with the delegation, members of the Committee posed numerous questions about the impact of the Government’s programmes and its efforts to combat violence against women, improve their health and education, and provide them with opportunities in political and social life. During the Committee’s examination of the country’s compliance with the Convention, experts also focused on the situation of women in the labour market, the health field, and family life, and on questions relating to nationality and ethnic minorities.
One expert said Estonia’s women’s rights laws were impressive, but the country seemed to lack the resources to implement and enforce them. Several other Committee members noted that most government actions seemed related to its cooperation with other member countries of the European Union, United Nations funds and programmes, and other partners.
Responding to that concern, delegation members said the Government took over the financing of gender equality projects after external funding ended. For example, funding by several Nordic countries to set up shelters for human trafficking victims, among other measures, would end in two to three years, but Parliament and government offices would develop a State budget to keep the project going.
Delegates also pointed out that, while there was no single action plan for promoting gender equality, gender aspects had been incorporated into several policy documents, including the National Development Plan of the Social Affairs Ministry, the National Development Plan for the implementation of the European Union Structural Funds, the State Budget Strategy, the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion, and national employment action plans.
Engaging the delegation in Chamber B were Committee experts Magalys Arocha Dominguez from Cuba, Meriem Belmihoub-Zerdani from Algeria, Dorcas Coker-Appiah from Ghana, Shanti Dairiam from Malaysia, Cornelis Flinterman from the Netherlands, Ruth Halperin-Kaddari from Israel, Fumiko Saiga from Japan, Dubravka Simonovic from Croatia, Anamah Tan from Singapore, Maria Regina Tavares da Silva from Portugal and Xiaoqiao Zou from China.
The Committee will take up the sixth periodic report of Brazil in Chamber B tomorrow, Wednesday 25 July.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met in Chamber B this morning to consider Estonia’s fourth periodic report (document CEDAW/C/EST/4).
Heading the country’s delegation was Marina Kaljurand, Ambassador at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It also included: Tina Intelmann, Permanent Representative of Estonia to the United Nations; Heljo Pikhof, Member of Parliament and Chair of its Social Affairs Committee; Kadi Katharina Viik, Head of the Gender Equality Department in the Ministry of Social Affairs; Mai Hion, Head of the Human Rights Division in the Legal Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ulle-Marike Papp, Adviser to the Gender Equality Department of the Ministry of Social Affairs; Kathlin Sander, Chief Specialist in the Gender Equality Department of the Ministry of Social Affairs; and Martin Roger, Second Secretary, Permanent Mission of Estonia to the United Nations.
Introduction of Report
MARINA KALJURAND, head of the delegation, introduced the fourth report, saying Estonia’s Gender Equality Act had entered into force on 1 May 2004. Its purpose was to ensure equal treatment for men and women and to promote gender equality as a fundamental human right and a “public good” in all areas of social life. The Act provided for the prohibition of discrimination based on sex in the private and public sectors, and for the right to claim compensation for damages. It could be qualified as progressive legislation and a promoting factor for gender mainstreaming, since it committed all State and local government agencies to apply a gender-mainstreaming strategy. It also obliged educational and research institutions and employers to promote equal treatment for men and women.
She said a new institution, the Office of the Gender Equality Commissioner, had been established in 2005 to handle complaints about gender discrimination. The creation of an advisory body -- the Gender Equality Council -– was also foreseen. In addition to the right of compensation provided under the Gender Equality Act, there was a regulation under the Penal Code stating the punishment for unlawful restriction of a person’s rights or granting unlawful preference on the basis of sex.
Although there was no single action plan for promoting gender equality, that aspect had been integrated into several policy documents, she continued. That related, for example, to the Ministry of Social Affairs Strategic Action Plan, the National Development Plan for the implementation of the European Union Structural Funds, the State Budget Strategy, the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion, and national employment action plans. The goal of the first gender mainstreaming project, “Gender Impact Assessment as a Core Measure for Gender Mainstreaming”, carried out in 2003-2004 with co-financing from the European Union, had been to improve understanding of gender equality and the dual-track approach to achieving equality and developing specific methods and tools for the promotion of gender mainstreaming. Another project, “Development of Administrative Capacity of National Authorities in the Field of Gender Mainstreaming”, had been carried out in 2004-2005 by the German and Estonian authorities. In 2006, a gender mainstreaming handbook had been published electronically, whereby the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Beijing Platform for Action had been introduced. The Government was also conducting statistical analysis of the situation of men and women.
She said information materials were being distributed to raise public awareness about gender equality, including a Russian-language version of a review Different, but Equal, a booklet first published in cooperation with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2003. In 2005, the Ministry of Social Affairs had ordered a second survey, Gender Equality Monitoring. As a member of the European Union, Estonia was participating in the elaboration of indicators for the follow-up to the Beijing Platform for Action, and in the work of the Council of Europe on gender equality.
In January 2004, she said, Estonia’s Gender Equality Bureau had been reorganized into the Gender Equality Department, whose main duties included preparing legislation relating to gender equality, planning measures to reduce inequality, and coordinating the implementation of those measures. The Department’s duties also covered domestic violence, the prevention of trafficking in women, analysing the status of women and men in different areas of society, and preparing recommendations and guidelines for reducing inequality. The lack of resources and attention had been a point of concern expressed by the Committee in its previous concluding observations. The progress made in respect of strengthening the unit dealing with gender equality did not mean that was the end of the work. With improvements still needed in some areas, the most critical point now was a lack of academic gender expertise in policy-making and implementing gender-impact analysis.
At the beginning of this year, the coordination of family policies had been added to the tasks of the Deputy Secretary-General and the Gender Equality Department of the Ministry of Social Affairs, she said. The Department’s staff now consisted of seven civil servants, one of whom coordinated activities for 2007 -– the Year of Equal Opportunities. The work of the gender quality unit was supported by the Ministry’s policy information and analysis departments. Two umbrella non-governmental organizations -- the Roundtable of Estonian Women’s Associations and the Estonian Women’s Chain of Cooperation -- had been established in 2003 to represent the country in cooperation with the European Women’s Lobby.
Estonia had made progress in the fight against trafficking in human beings, she said. Due to the remarkable improvement in the country’s economic situation, it was estimated that the scale of trafficking in human beings had diminished as compared with the 1990s and the beginning of 2000. The police also estimated significantly less trafficking in women and in prostitution. Positive changes in legislation, such as the addition of a special paragraph in the Penal Code to criminalize the aiding of prostitution, had also helped to improve law enforcement. Several awareness-raising campaigns had been held, the most remarkable being the Nordic-Baltic Campaign against Trafficking in Women (2002-2003). A hotline for victims had been opened in 2004, and several improvements had been made in the victim-support area. Among other things, Estonia participated in a regional pilot project on the safe return and reintegration of female victims of sexual exploitation.
Regarding violence against women, she said that in 2006-2007 Estonia had been developing a national action plan that would enter into force in 2008. The plan would address prevention, data gathering, legislation, services, and cooperation among relevant institutions. Since 2006, the courts could apply restriction orders of up to three years to protect a person’s life or other personal rights.
On women’s participation, she said that achieving gender balance in decision-making remained a challenge. The share of women in Parliament had slowly increased over the years, but they were still less likely to get elected, although the situation seemed to be improving. The share of women at the local government level had always been slightly higher than in Parliament. The new Parliament, starting its work in April 2007, had elected women as President and one Vice-President. There were three female Ministers in the current Government. However, a recent study had found that women did not have equal opportunities with men to win elected positions. Mass media were among the central institutions that reinforced gender stereotypes in politics and society as a whole. Government measures to improve women’s participation included a series of radio programmes, a compilation of articles and interviews with women Ministers, a collection, “Women in Top-level Politics”, pre-election debates, interviews with women politicians in Brussels, and a project, “Changing Attitudes”, aimed at students.
Pointing out positive changes in the labour market, she noted that in 2006 the unemployment rate for women had been 5.6 per cent for women, compared to 6.2 per cent for men. In recent years, the labour shortage had become a problem. As new jobs were primarily in the service sector, it was mainly women who entered into employment, and the greatest number employed had been elderly women. A recent study of wage differences had confirmed that those differences probably arose from people’s attitudes. In 2002, Estonia had joined the European Union’s action plan, through which the European Community framework strategy on gender equality for 2001-2005 was implemented. One of the projects within that framework was aimed at supporting women’s careers in the private sector. Five “Women to the Top” mentor programmes had been launched in Estonian private companies. Thirteen development partnerships in the framework of the European Community’s EQUAL initiative had been funded in Estonia, five of them aimed at improving the situation of women in the labour market.
She also described the country’s parental benefit scheme and the Government’s efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. To tackle the epidemic, a new national strategy for 2006-2015 had been drawn up, together with an action plan for 2006-2009.
Expert’s Comments and Questions
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, requested a copy of the English-language translation of the Gender Equality Act, noting its wide-ranging definition of discrimination. Was that based on sex or on the concept of discrimination against women as spelled out in article 1 of the Convention? Was sexual harassment considered discrimination under the Act? What about violence against women? Were judges aware of the Convention and their obligation to interpret national laws in line with it?
He asked for examples of legal opinions in which the Gender Equality Commissioner referred to the Convention, noting also that Estonia had translated the Optional Protocol. When would it be ratified?
RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, said that while Estonia’s women’s rights laws were impressive, the country seemed to lack the resources to implement and enforce them. What concrete measures had the Commission taken since its inception, and how many people worked in the Commissioner’s office? Had they reviewed the gender impact of programmes or laws to be enacted? When would the Gender Equality Council be set up?
She requested more information on the Commissioner’s role in overseeing all forms of discrimination and on the voluntary reconciliation programme.
DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked the delegation to list the main obstacles to ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention. Had the periodic country report been presented to Parliament, and was Parliament involved in the reporting process? How would the Government present the Committee’s concluding comments to ministries and to Parliament? What programmes existed to educate the judiciary, lawyers and law students about the Convention and its application at the national level?
In response, Ms. KALJURAND said the situation concerning gender mainstreaming and erasing gender stereotypes in society was indeed improving, but much remained to be done. The Gender Equality Act was available in English and copies would be distributed to the Committee. It was also on the Ministry of Social Affairs website.
Another delegate said the definition of sex discrimination in the Gender Equality Act was based on gender, not women specifically. But the Act also included a definition of gender equality that spelled out equal rights and obligations of women and men in professional, economic and social life. The Act covered all articles of the Convention and was based on it. Estonia had not been a European Union member when it had drafted the Act, but it had used European Union law as a basis for drafting the legislation. Sexual harassment was one of the most difficult definitions to draft and was based on the concept of subordination of a person by an employer, client or someone else. The Government planned to broaden the definition of sexual harassment. Violence against women was addressed by the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Law, not the Gender Equality Act.
Responding to another question, a member of the delegation said there had been no cases where Estonian courts had referred to the Convention. That was part of a wider issue relating to the application of international treaties and principles of international law. Much had been done to train lawyers, but much also remained to be done in promoting the use of international conventions at the domestic level.
Another country representative added that human rights represented part of the Estonian law curriculum. There were also programmes to educate judges, police officers and other relevant personnel. Great changes had been introduced to Estonia’s legal system since it had regained independence. It had adopted new national laws, which were still in the process of improvement. While national laws had to correspond to international norms, judges often preferred to apply national laws, rather than invoke international treaties. Raising awareness of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was a continuous process.
Regarding the Committee’s concluding observations, she said they were translated into Estonian and distributed as widely as possible, including to relevant ministries, Parliament, and the Gender Equality Commissioner.
Other members of the delegation explained that the Commissioner was an independent and impartial expert, with an independent budgetary line, who could not be terminated before the end of her term unless she committed a criminal offence or was unable to perform her functions for more than six months. The Commissioner had handled 92 complaints, including 43 relating to discrimination cases and 25 to institutions and employers. In 19 cases, the Commissioner had found that discrimination had taken place. She had been active in “making her name and face known”, giving lectures, participating in workshops and round tables. The Commissioner also participated in legislative work and was active in discussions regarding the impact of the proposed equal treatment act. According to that draft law, four advisers would be assisting the Commissioner in her activities. The law was expected to pass before the end of this year.
A delegate said Estonia was participating in the European Year of Equal Opportunities this year, focusing on awareness-raising and organizing campaigns to make people aware of their rights and remedies available to them. Discussions were under way regarding the Gender Equality Council’s composition. Many believed it should be influential and widely representative, including both experts and representatives of the private sector, non-governmental organizations and academia, among others.
The translation of the Optional Protocol had been completed in 2006, a member of the delegation said, and the instrument had been forwarded to Parliament. The Government attached great importance to the Protocol and was working on ratification procedures.
As the experts proceeded with the next round of questions, additional queries were posed regarding the national gender equality machinery, the role and functions of the Gender Equality Commissioner, the Chancellor of Justice and the Gender Equality Council.
FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, said she saw no specific gender equality plan of action or strategy and asked if the Government had a comprehensive programme in that regard.
MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, asked about the gender equality “leadership hierarchy” and the reorganization of the Department of Gender Equality. From the report, it was not clear whether the reorganization had given the Department more power or impact. What real capacity did the Department have to exercise its functions? If one of its functions was “to inform the Government”, was it really part of that Government?
She asked how much of Estonia’s budget was dedicated to the advancement of women, noting that most actions undertaken at the national level seemed to be related to funds, assistance from the United Nations and cooperation with other regional players.
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked if gender equality mechanisms had a clear mandate to promote cultural and structural changes in women’s and men’s roles. What measures were taken in that regard, and were they effective? Article 5 of the Convention required pro-active policies.
SHANTI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, asked how Estonia ensured consistency in gender equality, since it was project-driven. If there was no universal plan that set goals, how were various institutions held accountable? How did Estonia ensure the sustainability of gender-equality efforts if they were being funded by the European Union, often for a specific time period?
In response, Ms. KALJURAND said the Government took over the financing of gender equality projects after external funding ended. For example, funding by several Nordic countries to set up shelters for human trafficking victims, among other measures, would end in two years to three years, but Parliament and Government offices would develop a State budget to keep the project going. There was no single action plan for promoting gender equality, but gender aspects had been incorporated into several policy documents, including the National Development Plan of the Social Affairs Ministry and other government branches.
Another delegate said the Gender Equality Commissioner was available to assist people seeking redress in court. The reconciliation process was voluntary and did not concern State agencies. The Chancellor of Justice could suggest a course of action, which became mandatory if both parties to a conflict accepted it.
The Chancellor was an independent official, another delegate added. The reconciliation process was more of a friendly settlement procedure, and the Chancellor acted as an ombudsman. Everyone had the right to petition him and he could make concrete proposals on human rights compliance. The Chancellor’s decisions were sent to the government authority supervising the person charged with violating the rights of another person.
Another delegate said the Gender Equality Bureau had been converted to the Gender Equality Department in 2004, and its staff included five people for gender equality issues, double the number employed by the bureau, and two people for family-policy issues. The Government had transferred responsibility for family policy to the Department due to concern that policies involving a balance between professional and personal life were not gender-sensitive enough. Staff had been added to work on such projects as the Year of Equal Opportunities. In two weeks, the Department would conduct training programmes for employers on gender mainstreaming in the labour market. It currently had an advisory role in the Government since the Gender Equality Council had not yet been set up. In the last few years, the media’s portrayal of gender roles and gender-equality goals had improved significantly. The Department was consulted on a wide range of gender-equality issues, such as wage gaps, the number of women in executive jobs and the number of men taking parental leave. Overall, gender equality was taken much more seriously.
Another delegate added that the Government and non-governmental organizations were proactive about reducing wage gaps. There were now indicators and independent evaluations of women’s economic independence and violence against women. Gender mainstreaming strategies had been integrated into all ministerial regulations.
As the Committee turned to special temporary measures for the advancement of women, Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, drew the delegation’s attention to the Committee’s general recommendation on that issue. Under the Convention, States parties had an obligation to introduce special temporary measures to overcome deep-rooted discrimination against women.
He said he was intrigued that by the results of a recent public opinion poll, which indicated that only 37 per cent of Estonia’s population supported quotas for women. However, Government efforts should not be based on such polls. What special temporary measures had been introduced, since the application of special measures to promote gender equality and grant advantages for the less-represented gender or reduce gender inequality were not considered discrimination under the Gender Equality Act?
Ms. KALJURAND responded by saying that the laws and policies undertaken by the Government must reflect developments in society. It was important that the issue was being discussed, with different opinions being expressed.
Another delegation member said that, as a result of awareness-raising efforts, there was more understanding of the need to introduce special temporary measures, but further discussion was needed. Currently, both sexes were represented in all parliamentary commissions, and it was to be hoped that quota requirements would be introduced in the future. On another aspect, it was important to emphasize government efforts to overcome gender violence, which were targeted only towards women, and all measures to empower women and raise their awareness of their rights, among other things.
DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, drew attention to stereotypes and education, asking whether Estonia had started to develop new textbooks in conformity with the new curriculum adopted in March. Had further research into violence against women been undertaken, and was the Government expanding assistance and shelter systems for victims of violence?
She applauded Estonia’s programmes to stop trafficking in people –- “to tackle the problem, no matter how small it is” -- noting, however, that most programmes were undertaken in cooperation with other countries. What was Estonia prepared to do on its own once those projects were completed?
Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, following up on the domestic violence questions, recalled that the Committee had recommended in the past that Estonia introduce specific laws, but the country had decided instead to implement a general violence law and to introduce a national plan to address the problem. Why had it taken so long to introduce the domestic violence plan, which would only enter into force next year? Since acts of violence could be prosecuted under the Penal Code, how did the Government plan to improve the collection of domestic-data, and how many women were murdered as a result of domestic violence? She also asked for an update on legal aid and services to victims of violence, and on restraining order procedures.
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, shared the concern expressed about the lack of specific domestic-violence legislation and asked about aid to the victims of trafficking. Was the Baltic-Nordic pilot programme on safe return of sexual exploitation victims separate from general national victim-assistance laws? How many victims of trafficking had made use of the relevant Act, and how much compensation was given in such instances?
A delegation member said that a recent analysis of textbooks had revealed gender stereotypes, and the Ministry of Education had decreed in March that new textbooks must be developed. Regarding the action plan on violence, concrete budget numbers were needed in order to adopt it, and the amounts needed for each ministry had now been elaborated.
Regarding the continuation of international programmes, she said the Nordic countries had been financing the Nordic-Baltic programme, but, with time, the Estonian authorities would be responsible for implementing it.
Another delegate said that, while trafficking was not Estonia’s biggest problem, the situation in the country was no different from that prevailing globally. Although the numbers were small, Estonia was an origin, a transit point and a destination of trafficking, and the Government found it important to cooperate with others on that issue.
Providing an update on research into domestic violence, another member of the delegation said that a study on the perpetrators of violence would be presented at the end of this year. It had been undertaken to find out the reasons behind and identify measures to address the problem. Domestic violence would also be included in a big survey of victims to be carried out by the national statistics office. A projected cost-of-violence study would be useful in addressing the problem.
Noting that financial support was being provided to non-governmental organizations operating shelters, she said the action plan on domestic violence foresaw State support to all shelters next year. The Government’s role was particularly important when local authorities lacked the capacity to help victims. Separate shelters for trafficking victims had only opened this year, so it was difficult to provide specific statistics.
As for the delay in developing the Domestic Violence Act, she said it was a huge responsibility involving various ministries. Completion of the process, begun in 2006, had been expected by year’s end, but it was late due to the enormity of the task and other issues, such as the departure of a staff member due to pregnancy. Regarding the collection of data on domestic violence cases registered with the police, one of the four police districts had targeted a method that could serve as a model for the other districts in collecting and follow-up on cases. A national plan had been developed on the basis of that model. Statistics were not immediately available on the number of women murdered annually by their partners or family members, but efforts would be made to provide that information following the lunch break.
In a round of follow-up questions, several experts raised the issue of legal aid to the victims of domestic violence and possible follow-up to the European Union campaign to combat violence, as well as remedies available to persons submitting complaints to the Commissioner. Also addressed were the definition of discrimination against women in the Gender Equality Act, and gender analysis.
A member of the delegation replied that legal aid was among the free-of-charge services provided to victims of violence in shelters. Another speaker added that government efforts to broaden general knowledge included television spots in Estonian and Russian, and a series of articles on domestic violence.
About the definition of discrimination, a country representative said that under the Gender Equality Act, direct discrimination occurred when one person was treated less favourably on the basis of sex. That was in accordance with the Convention’s definition, which took into account the comparison between the situation of men and women. Under the law, the judiciary must take that into account, given equal opportunities, resources, rights and obligations. As for available remedies, the Commissioner gave her opinion as to whether an act in question was discriminatory, and the complainant then had to decide whether he or she wished to seek compensation in court.
MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, focused on women’s participation, their role in decision-making and nationality issues, saying there had been some progress as far as women’s representation was concerned. While Estonia’s progress was “quite good”, it was not as significant as that achieved by many other European countries. What percentage of women had been elected in recent elections, and what proportion of women parliamentarians were of Russian and Ukrainian origin? What was the rate of women’s representation in the judiciary? She also asked about Estonia’s policies regarding the Russian language, spoken by about one third of the population. Could Estonian women pass their nationality on to their children in the same way as men?
In response, Ms. KALJURAND said a child could be granted Estonian citizenship if either parent was an Estonian citizen by birth, but citizenship was not automatically granted to the spouse of a citizen. The spouse would have to apply for citizenship, but would have the rights of a permanent resident of the European Union. Estonia’s Citizenship Law was one of the most liberal in the European Union. Stateless parents could apply in writing for Estonian citizenship for their children.
Turning to women’s participation in politics and decision-making, she said there had been progress, but women were still not equally represented and more must be done to encourage them to enter political life, particularly at the decision-making level. More than half the country’s civil servants were women, including three of the Government’s six under-secretaries, 24 per cent of its ambassadors and about the same percentage of its directors-general.
Another delegate added that 22 of Estonia’s 100 Members of Parliament were women, and two former women parliamentarians were now ministers. Four out of the 11 vice-chairs of parliamentary committees were women.
Returning to the question of citizenship, another delegate said the Government did not collect data on the national origin of citizens, there were national minorities. Ten to 15 years ago, there had been political parties comprising members of a certain national origin. There had been more recent attempts to create national-minority political parties, but they had not done well in elections. Members of national minorities preferred to join larger parties and had since integrated into mainstream political and social life.
Another delegate said Estonian was the country’s official language, adding that the Government aimed not only to assimilate, but also to integrate different nationalities. Speaking Russian was a definite advantage in the labour market, considering Estonia’s proximity to the Russian Federation. Multilingualism was an asset in the labour market.
ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, asked whether the Government encouraged female students to study non-traditional subjects, and if there were programmes to end gender stereotypes. What was the school drop-out rate in primary and secondary schools, and what programmes existed to help dropouts, especially pregnant girls, return to school? What measures were there to increase the number of women professors?
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked whether the Government considered itself fully detached from the responsibility to promote women to high-level posts in academia, noting that it was indeed responsible for promoting women to high-level positions in universities, regardless of whether the institutions concerned were State-run.
Ms. AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, pointed out that the delegation’s answers did not include gender-disaggregated data on the rural and urban labour markets and asked about measures to end wage disparities. Was the plight of women better today?
Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked whether the Government had conducted research on increasing HIV infection among women, and why national strategies to combat HIV/AIDS focused on drug users rather than the contribution of social attitudes towards higher infection rates among them.
Ms. ZOU, expert from China, asked about government campaigns to promote the Gender Equality Act and the Equal Employment Act. Had any employers been penalized for discriminating against women? Did Estonia have a labour tribunal or a complaints channel to punish people who broke the law? Had the Government conducted any surveys to identify the causes of unemployment, particularly among different groups, and to help unemployed people find work? Was there sexual harassment in the workplace, and did the Gender Equality Act penalize it?
Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, welcomed a reported decrease in Estonia’s abortion rate, but expressed concern regarding the accuracy of data collected to sustain those good results. Some information was collected on termination of pregnancies, according to the Termination of Pregnancy and Sterilization Act, but, at the same time, the country report pointed out the absence of systematic data on the use of contraceptives. Despite the collection of data on invoices and World Health Organization (WHO) requirements, perhaps only secondary importance was given to the health needs and status of women. For example, the report contained no data on mortality trends and ratios.
ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, asked about programmes initiated to improve the situation of rural women and their role in decision-making. With less than 20 per cent of women leadership positions in local government, how did they influence decision-making in their communities?
As for women’s access to funds and technology, she said the report showed that projects relating to local production and the development of tourism were the only State measures giving preference to female entrepreneurs. How many women farmers had been given credit to develop economic activities and purchase land? Alarmed that almost a third of households lived in unsuitable conditions, she asked if that applied only to the rural population, and what was being done to alleviate that state of affairs.
Responding to those and previous questions, a delegation member said about 40 women were murdered each year and almost half of that number was attributable to domestic violence. Three victims of trafficking had applied to shelters so far.
On education, she said there was a big difference between the subject preferences of young men and women, with about half as many female as male students choosing technical fields. It was hard to say what could be done to change that situation, which originated in attitudes taught as early as kindergarten. However, attitudes were changing, and if parents had predicted the future of their daughters as mothers and wives in the 1990s, they now saw them as equal to their sons.
The small number of women professors in the country’s universities was a matter of concern for the Government, she continued. The head of Parliament, herself a woman and a professor, intended to encourage women with degrees to become university professors. There were ways to reconcile work and family life, and hopefully a study conducted in the near future would allow the Government to elaborate concrete measures to address the issue.
Regarding drop-out rates, a member of the delegation said 911 students had dropped out of school in 2004, including 636 boys and 275 girls. She also provided health-related statistics, saying that cancer and cardiovascular diseases were among the main causes of death in the country.
A delegation member said it was a cause of concern that differences in the wages of men and women amounted to about 25 per cent –- one of the highest rates in the European Union. The Wages Act provided for equal remuneration for equal work, and the worker could demand that the employer explain how wages were calculated. However, measures to reduce the gap had not been very effective so far. The Government was now initiating a one-year project, with experts from France, to find out the attitudes of employers towards implementation equal treatment norms and private sector practices. Measures to raise awareness would be implemented and guidelines for employers produced.
Regarding part-time work, a delegate said that, while that form of employment was not very popular, according to gender-equality monitoring, many women had expressed their interest in 2006 because it looked like a good way to combine family and work. However, the Government did not encourage it because it affected women’s benefits and pensions. Instead, it was important to promote fathers’ participation in family life. Recently, obstacles preventing fathers from taking parental leave had been removed and they could now do so after the expiration of a mother’s maternity leave.
Turning to the situation of rural women, a country representative said the Government was promoting the development of rural women, and the Department of Agriculture was providing significant funds towards the development of rural communities. Several women’s non-governmental organizations were also involved in those efforts. The Ministry of Finance organized training for people applying for credit. Estonian women being “somewhat better educated than men”, there were more female than male participants in those seminars.
Another delegate said most people experienced sexual harassment in friendships or other social relationships, but not in the workplace. Government strategies to combat HIV infection did not concentrate only on intravenous drug users, but the increase in infections among women was occurring mainly among the female sexual partners of intravenous drug users. Government programmes to combat HIV/AIDS targeted young people, young prostitutes, women prisoners and other at-risk groups. Young people received free condoms and counselling, and peer-review programmes on sex education were designed to end gender stereotypes and change male sexual behaviour patterns. The Government provided free antiretroviral treatment for HIV-infected people, and all pregnant women were offered free testing, to which 90 per cent of them agreed.
Regarding statistics on maternal mortality, she said there were only one or two cases annually. Estonia had very high maternal and reproductive health-care standards. However, men were often reluctant to attend counselling, and the Government had staffed some centres with all male employees to encourage them.
Another delegate said there was an abortion register, but while doctors and health-care workers provided information, there was a need to protect sensitive individual data. However, data collection was being improved. Abortion rates had dropped 50 per cent and abortion was now almost non-existent among teenagers, as a result of more responsible sexual behaviour patterns, which was proof that government policies were working.
Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, asked whether unmarried women had the same reproductive rights as their married counterparts. Were artificial insemination, in-vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood services available to them? Was birth control covered by health insurance, or was coverage limited? She asked how the draft Family Law differed from the current law. How many unmarried couples were living together, and did they have joint property rights?
Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, asked the delegation to elaborate on the division of property acquired during a marriage when a couple divorced. Was a woman’s role as caretaker of the children and the family taken into account in the division of assets? Had a study been conducted on the impact on women’s rights of the amendment to the Family Law? Was there enough awareness-raising among couples regarding the pitfalls of cohabitation?
Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, asked why Estonia allowed minors to marry, since it had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The legal marriage age should be 18 for both sexes. Why were ministers of houses of worship authorized to marry under-aged couples? Was that not a risky practice?
In response, Ms. KALJURAND said the power to register marriages was in fact given to church ministers, but they were only permitted to do so when the parties involved had received marriage education. Very few teenagers under the age of 18 got married, and under-aged marriage was really not a problem in Estonia.
Another delegate added that previous family law was from the Soviet era and was outdated. No statistics on cohabitation were readily available, but it was very common for young couples to live together and have their first child before getting married. Some never married. The common property of a husband and wife was considered joint property, but that was expected to change significantly under the new law, whereby there would no longer be common property as such. No impact analysis had been conducted before the drafting of the proposed law, but Parliament had ordered a study.
Another delegate said the draft family law was now before Parliament. Concerning divorce and the division of property, the property assets acquired by each spouse before marriage and the joint property acquired during the marriage were taken into account. Assets were split on the basis of the difference between the two.
On artificial insemination, another delegate said it was available to unmarried women, adding that pension insurance covered all married women.
Concluding the discussion, several experts asked follow-up questions about the draft family law.
Ms HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, noted that, from the responses, it seemed that the change envisaged was that, during marriage, a separate property regime would be introduced under which property could be divided upon divorce. Did the laws of shared property apply to cohabiting couples? Were spouses’ future earnings considered to be part of the property to be divided following separation? Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, asked for updated figures on divorce rates and the reasons for their decline.
A member of the delegation replied that the property of cohabiting couples was not regulated at the moment. The reasons for the falling divorce rates had not been analysed, but the Government was very happy about that development.
Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia and Chairperson of the meeting, said she had been very impressed by the delegation’s frank answers, and by the Government’s many initiatives. All efforts should be made to monitor the impact of those measures and take appropriate action. However, one concern was the definition of discrimination under national legislation. In some cases, equal treatment was not enough and there was a need for differential treatment of men and women.
Ms. KALJURAND said it had been a real pleasure for her delegation to participate in fruitful and constructive dialogue with the Committee’s members. While she was happy that the experts had acknowledged the Government’s efforts, there would certainly remain points of concern, which would have to be addressed in the future. Dialogue was very important for the Government to understand “where we stand” and take further measures for the advancement of women. She assured the Committee that there were no obstacles or problems of principle regarding ratification of the Optional Protocol, and the relevant proceedings were under way.
* *** *For information media • not an official record