8 July 2008
General Assembly
WOM/1692

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

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

838th & 839th Meetings (AM & PM)


NEW LAW ON EQUAL STATUS, EQUAL RIGHTS BOOSTS ICELANDIC WOMEN’S PROTECTION, WOMEN’S


ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE HEARS, BUT STRUGGLE FOR EQUALITY ‘LONG AND ARDUOUS’


Iceland’s recently enforced Act on the Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men gave women greater rights and protections in the labour market, education and domestic life, the Head of the Department of Equality and Labour of Iceland’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Security told the Committee monitoring State parties’ compliance with the Women’s Convention today.


Presenting Iceland’s fifth and sixth periodic reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Hanna Sigridur Gunnsteinsdottir said the Act, which entered into force in March, provided for stronger gender equality rights and obligations than the 2000 gender equality law.  It gave the Centre for Gender Equality broad authority to fight gender-based wage discrimination and other gender-based differences in the labour market, and the Complaints Committee on Gender Equality license to make binding decisions in cases concerning alleged violations of the Act.


The Act also contained, for the first time, definitions of gender-based violence and of direct and indirect discrimination, and it required gender mainstreaming in all education policy formulation and planning, she said.  Further, it introduced provisions on maternity and paternity leave to encourage equal parental responsibility for childcare and equality in the labour market.


Thirty-two years had passed since Icelandic lawmakers had adopted the country’s first comprehensive legislation on gender equality, Ms. Gunnsteinsdottir said, noting that the struggle for gender equality had been long and arduous.  And while much had been accomplished in recent years, full equality between the sexes had yet to be achieved.  In order to change that and accelerate the women’s empowerment process, Iceland would hold the first of its new biennial public forums on gender equality this fall. 


Prior to each forum, she added, the Minister of Social Affairs and Social Security would submit a report on the status and development of gender equality issues on such topics as gender-based wage discrimination in the work place; the role of gender in business; public grants itemized based on recipients’ gender; the participation of men and women in politics; and the gender ratio of public committees and boards.


While lauding the strides towards gender parity and women’s advancement, Committee experts expressed concern over the country’s decision to legalize prostitution, particularly since most female commercial sex workers were foreigners, and the opening of a strip club.  They also took issue with the persistence of gender stereotypes, violence against women, notably domestic violence, the lack of women in the higher echelons of academia, the gender wage gap in the labour market and the gender imbalance in the distribution of public funding for business ventures in rural areas.  One expert lamented that the Government had no plans to raise awareness about the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, and wondered whether the Convention was truly accepted as a useful sourcein interpreting the new Act on the Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men. 


The Committee will take up Finland’s fifth and sixth periodic reports at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 9 July.


Background


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider Iceland’s fifth and sixth periodic reports (documents CEDAW/C/ICE/5 and CEDAW/C/ICE/6).


Led by Hanna Sigridur Gunnsteinsdottir, Head of the Department of Equality and Labour of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Security of Iceland, the Icelandic delegation also comprised Kristin Astgeirsdottir, Director for the Centre of Gender Equality; Hildur Jonsdottir, Gender Equality Expert and Chair of the Gender Equality Council in the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Security; and Emil Breki Hreggvidsson, Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Iceland to the United Nations.


Introduction of Reports


Presenting the reports, Ms. GUNNSTEINSDOTTIR said that the Icelandic Parliament in February had adopted a new Act on the Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men.  It entered into force in March.  The year 2006 had marked 30 years since the first comprehensive legislation on gender equality had been adopted in Iceland.  Also that year, the Minister of Social Affairs and Social Security had appointed a committee to review legislation passed in 2000, which addressed the equal status and equal rights of women and men.  The committee comprised members of all political parties represented in Parliament, with broad authority to review legislation.  It consulted non-governmental organizations, social partners and other parties with gender equality concerns.  In March 2007, the committee submitted a draft of the newly enforced Act to the Minister of Social Affairs and Social Security.  The new Act, which revoked the previous 2000 Gender Equality Act, contained new provisions that provided for firmer rights and obligations of those responsible for implementing gender equality. 


She said that the structure within the federal administration had remained unchanged, but the Centre for Gender Equality, the Gender Equality Council and the Complaints Committee on Gender Equality had been empowered.  The Centre, a public body operating under the auspices of the Minister of Social Affairs and Social Security, had been charged with administering gender equality legislation.  The new legislation specifically stated that the Centre was expected to fight gender-based wage discrimination and other gender-based differences in the labour market.  It was also expected to work to increase men’s participation in gender equality activities, as well as to arbitrate in any disputes referred to it as a result of the legislation. 


The new law also gave the Centre a more powerful supervisory role, with wider authority to gather information from companies, institutions and associations on occasions when there were sufficient grounds for suspecting that the law had been broken, she said.  The Complaints Committee on Gender Equality comprised three lawyers nominated by the Supreme Court and appointed by the Minister of Social Affairs and Social Security.  As in the past, that committee considered cases concerning alleged violations of the Act.  But under the new legislation, it could deliver a binding decision about whether the Act had been broken, whereas in the past, it could only deliver a non-binding decision.  In order to further strengthen the work of gender equality experts within the ministries, the legislation provided that gender mainstreaming must be respected in all policymaking and planning.  It also provided for a special gender equality adviser in the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture.


Turning to article 3 of the Convention, on basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, she said that, under the new Act, a gender equality forum would be held every two years.  The forums were intended to encourage more vigorous debate in gender equality among the public and at the community level.  The first forum was scheduled to take place in the fall.  In order to stimulate more effective discussion during the forums, the Minister of Social Affairs and Social Security would submit a report at the beginning of each forum on the status and development of gender equality issues on a wide range of topics:  the labour market and the development of gender-based wage discrimination; women and men in employment and the role of gender in the business community in general; grants provided by public bodies, itemized according to the recipient’s gender; the participation of men and women in politics; and the gender ratio of public committees and boards. 


Concerning the Convention’s article 4, on special measures, she said that the new Act prohibited all types of direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of gender, and it contained definitions of direct and indirect discrimination.  Previously, those definitions were only found in regulations.  On article 5, concerning sex role stereotyping and prejudice, she said that last winter the Minister of Social Affairs and Social Security submitted a bill to Parliament for the amendment of the Act on Maternity-Paternity Leave and Parental Leave, which had recently been approved.  That amendment applied to the rights of parents who had children, including through adoption or permanent foster care, on or after 1 June 2008. 


Among other things, the new Act shortened the reference period for calculating payments from the Maternity-Paternity Leave Fund from 24 months to 12 months, bringing it closer to the birth date of the child or the date which the child entered a home due to adoption or permanent foster care, she explained.  It also allowed both parents to take maternity or paternity leave of up to one month before the expected birth of their child.  For the first time, parents who did not enjoy custody of their children were now entitled to maternity or paternity grants, provided that the parent who had custody had granted visitation rights to the other parent during the period in which the grant was to be paid.


Turning to article 6, on prostitution, she said that the Act contained new provisions to combat gender-based violence.  For the fist time, gender-based violence was specifically defined as “violence on the basis of gender that leads to, or could lead to, the physical, sexual or psychological damage to, or suffering by, the victim, moreover any threat of such, coercion or random curtailment of freedom, both in private lives and in the public arena”.  Last winter, the Government had decided to establish an action plan to better organize efforts to prevent human trafficking.  The Minister of Social Affairs and Social Security had subsequently appointed a consultation committee to prepare a comprehensive action plan on the matter.


In terms of article 10, on education, the Act contained special provisions on education and schooling, which specifically required gender mainstreaming in all policy formulation and planning, and it required students to be educated on gender equality issues, she noted.  A developmental project to address gender equality education in nursery schools and primary schools had also been launched.  Concerning article 11, on employment, a 2000 provision to the Act stated that institutions with more than 25 employees must create gender equality policies or make special provisions regarding gender equality in human resources policies. 


The new Act also gave the Centre for Gender Equality greater authority to monitor compliance with the law, she continued.  It contained a new provision stipulating that employees were at all times permitted to disclose their wage terms if they choose to do so and that companies could no longer prohibit employees from discussing their salaries with a third party.  That new amendment was in accordance with the Government’s 23 May 2007 Policy Statement.  The Minister of Social Affairs and Social Security and the Minister of Finance had set up three committees to propose measures to bridge the gender pay gap.  According to temporary provisions in the Act, the Minister of Social Affairs and Social Security would oversee development of a certification system for implementing equal pay and equal rights policies concerning recruitment and termination of employment.  Those provisions would be implemented in the next two years in cooperation with social partners. 


Concluding her statement, she said that the struggle for gender equality in Iceland had been long and arduous.  The proportion of Icelandic women in employment had traditionally been very high, and their contribution had been just as important to the economy as men’s contribution.  Legislation on maternity-paternity leave had been introduced to encourage equal parental responsibility for child care, and thereby, equality in the labour market.  Still, equality between men and women had not yet been fully achieved.  While much had been accomplished in recent years, additional efforts were still needed. 


She said her country strongly supported Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security.  Fully committed to its implementation, Iceland had recently adopted a national action plan to do so.  Further, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the University of Iceland had signed a cooperation agreement on gender issues, the aim of which was to set up an international centre on gender research and education within the University in November, with special emphasis on supporting developing countries and peacebuilding


Experts’ Comments and Questions


As the Committee began its detailed examination of Iceland’s report, several experts paid tribute to Iceland’s progress in striving for women’s parity and empowerment, while also pointing out areas of concern that they felt required Iceland’s attention, particularly the country’s decision to legalize prostitution.


CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, observed that, since the Government of Iceland, by its own admission, had not been involved in the formulation of the new gender equality act, as it was not formerly submitted to it, wondered how “visible” it was in incorporating women’s concerns.  He was further disappointed that the Government was not planning any measures to raise awareness about the Convention’s Optional Protocol (an instrument by which individuals may submit a formal complaint to the Committee on violations of their rights once all other avenues for so doing have been exhausted).


Country Response


Regarding the Convention’s visibility, Ms. GUNNSTEINSDOTTIR explained that Iceland had not made direct reference to international instruments, although the Government took them into account in incorporating international instruments into its legislation.  She added that combating gender violence had also been incorporated into the gender equality act, as had the fight for gender equality in the labour market.  There was also a children’s act that ensured equality between parents in custody cases.


Regarding how Iceland prepared its reports, she said this was done in conjunction with other Government ministries, with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs taking the lead in finalizing it.


A member of the delegation acknowledged that, while Iceland was fully aware of the requirements and needs of the Convention, there was still room for improvement in the manner it implemented its provisions, namely, the need to take into account those areas where lapses in implementation needed to be strengthened.


Experts’ Comments and Questions


VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, while praising Iceland’s overall progress in protecting the rights of women, noted that there was still a lot left to be done and wanted to know what measures, for instance, were intended to be taken in order to fully implement the gender equality act.  Further, she wanted to know if the necessary authority, visibility and political recognition were planned that would give meaning to Iceland’s new action plan.


MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, raised the specific concerns of immigrant women, particularly in view of the emerging trend in Europe, where their situation was increasingly worrying, especially in light of violence against women.  She also raised concerns about women’s role in efforts to diversify their academic choices, especially against the backdrop of continuing stereotypes, domestic violence, the persistent wage gap in the labour market and general difficulties encountered by women in daily life in Iceland.


YOKO HAYASHI, expert from Japan, asked what the head of the delegation had meant by “temporary measures” when she said that those had been put in place to check violations of the new action plan. 


HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, raised the issue of domestic violence as it related to the courts’ authority.  It appeared strange to her that the police had the authority to lift a court’s restraining order once circumstances that had given rise to such an order no longer existed, without going back to the court that had originally issued the restraining order. 


FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, asked how the legalization of prostitution helped towards the attainment of women’s equality, especially since more and more of those involved in prostitution were foreign women.  She also observed that, not only had some courts been rather slow in meting out punishment against perpetrators of violence against women -- even though this provision had been approved and put into law some years back now -- but the punishment, when it came, was not always commensurate with the violation.


On the same issue, Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, sought clarification on who exactly profited from that trade.  Especially as it related to strip dancers -- was it the Government, the strip dancers of the owners of the strip dancer clubs?  She added that it was a pity the law was not passed to include men, and there appeared to be no punishment directed at male perpetrators of violence against men in that regard.  What measures was the Government thinking of putting in place to address those concerns?


SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, expressed concern over the high number of girl victims of violence and the increasing prevalence of incest.  How did Iceland plan to overcome that problem?  What preventive measures existed?  Had there been cases of corporal punishment?  Was the Government incorporating so-called “positive disciplining” in its educational booklets on corporal punishment prevention?  What impact had Iceland’s work with the Council of Baltic Sea States had on efforts to combat trafficking?  When was Iceland going to ratify the Palermo Convention and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings?  Did the new Act to end trafficking include measures for victims’ protection and recovery, including for immigrants and children?  Was pornography legal in Iceland?  Were children used in pornographic films? 


DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIC, Committee Chairperson and expert from Croatia, asked if there was a specific body collecting data on violence against women, particularly domestic violence.  She asked for data on the number of women murdered by their husbands, ex-husbands or partners.  Was any mechanism studying measures taken to prevent domestic violence?  For how long could protection orders be issued?  Was there a fully Government-funded “24/7” helpline for victims of domestic violence?  How many shelters for victims existed, and were those funded by the Government?


Country Response


Regarding obstacles to implementing action plans, Ms. GUNNSTEINSDOTTIR said the Government had acknowledged that firmer laws were needed and that public bodies had to be empowered.  She expressed hope that the new legislation would improve the situation in that regard.  The new Act called for increasing the funds to bodies such as the Centre for Gender Equality, whose budget had been increased by 50 per cent.  The Ministry of Education and other bodies received funds to hire gender equality experts.  The Government bodies had political support.  Concerning immigrant women, she said that they could indeed be in a vulnerable position.  However, there were greater numbers of immigrant men than immigrant women. 


She said that an action plan had been launched in 2006 to combat domestic violence, which included provisions to help immigrant women and to conduct a survey on them.  Children that had entered women’s shelters were not themselves victims of domestic violence, but were the children of women victims of violence.  There was no tradition in Iceland of corporal punishment.  Iceland informed foreigners living in the country that corporal punishment was illegal and that children were protected under the Children’s Protection Act.  


Regarding strip clubs and trafficking, another delegate said it was a relatively new phenomenon in Iceland and she stressed Iceland’s small size and population.  Prostitution was legal.  There was no visible street prostitution.  The Penal Code had been amended in 2003 to ban trafficking.  There was only one known case of a minor who had entered Iceland and had claimed to be a victim of trafficking.  Efforts were under way to prepare Iceland to ratify the Palermo Convention and the Council of Europe’s Convention, and to identify and assist trafficking victims.  Additionally, Iceland was considering the United Nations 2002 guidelines on human trafficking.  Only one strip club existed, which was monitored by the police. 


Concerning violence against women, another delegate said a survey was under way to uncover violence against women in marriage and other intimate relationships.  The Government was looking at data from police, hospitals, shelters and social workers, which would be included in a report expected to be published next year.  Prostitution had also been hidden in Iceland.  A Nordic project was looking at the phenomenon.  Government programmes informed immigrant women and men about their rights.  The Centre for Gender Equality was charged with developing special action for the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Security to eliminate gender discrimination in the labour market and to increase the number of women in non-traditional fields, such as engineering.  The Government was also working to change gender stereotypes in the labour market, which was significantly segregated by gender.  Women were prevalent in the nursing sector, for example. 


Ms. GUNNSTEINSDOTTIR highlighted the fact that Iceland was characterised by high levels of unemployment, especially among the emigrant labour force, which tended to compound the problem of prostitution.  While pornography was legally banned, as was its distribution, there was a debate in the country about whether what was published in magazines, which many considered to be pornographic, should in fact be so categorized.  Through Government support, and in conjunction with non-governmental organizations, various outlets have been created for people to report pornographic sites.


Experts’ Comments and Questions


HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked if there was a human rights committee within Iceland’s Parliament that discussed issues of gender equality.  The Government should create a process in which all branches were fully aware of their obligations in implementing such decisions.


Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, urged the country to do more than just police patrolling, so that everything was conducted openly.  That would ensure that nothing was hidden from the public.


GLENDA P. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, observed that, while prostitution needed both the “Madonna and whore -- that’s why prostitution thrived”, it was the man who profited from the enterprise “and he must be making a lot of money”.  Many of strip clubs were in fact owned and ran by men.


Country Response


Clarifying questions about the protection of women against violence, Ms. GUNNSTEINSDOTTIR said that the country’s action plan against domestic violence contained a provision to appeal the decision of the police to lift the restraining orders imposed by the courts.  Further, the country’s legislature had proposed a witness programme, which is under consideration by the Ministry of Justice.


A member of the delegation added that the majority of the population did not tolerate strip clubs.  Strip clubs had not been completely eradicated, and the country was vigorously working on their elimination.  Moreover, the majority of the population in Iceland opposed them.  The effort to eliminate the clubs was being carried out on various levels, such as through seminars and special police task forces.  “We acknowledge this is difficult police work, but we are working hard,” she stressed.


Another member of the delegation added that several organizations were working with victims of violence, and some non-governmental organizations were setting up shelters for them.


Experts’ Comments and Questions


Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, asked if the Women’s Convention was accepted as a useful sourcein the evolving dynamic in interpreting the gender and equality act.


MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, said that the responsibility for making the Convention applicable should rest with the main organs of Government, according to its evolving standards.


Country Response


The head of the delegation, Ms. GUNNSTEINSDOTTIR, said that the Act on the equal status of women and men reflected the Convention well.   Iceland had strong legislation on gender equality, and every provision of the Convention was reflected in its gender equality act.


Experts’ Comments and Questions


ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, noted that the number of women holding “general directors” positions in the country had been dropping and wondered what had led to that change.  What measures had Iceland taken or was planning to take to increase women’s participation?  Also, on rural women’s participation, she questioned why only four fifths of women were participants in agricultural activities.  At the national and local government levels, were there any policies or mechanisms to encourage or enable women to participate in formulating agricultural policies?  She also asked if the Government had undertaken any studies concerning the gender equality of rural women in the country.


MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, praised the more than 30 per cent representation of women in Iceland’s Parliament, but lamented that women accounted for only 18 per cent of professors at Iceland’s largest university.  The country report had no figures on women judges in the various courts, or the number of women in high-level private sector posts.  She hoped that women’s representation in those areas would increase by the time Iceland reported again to the Committee.


Country Response


Regarding women in agriculture, Ms. GUNNSTEINSDOTTIR said that the sector was very small and limited to sheep and dairy farming.  Most farmers worked part-time and had second jobs in other sectors.  Indeed, there were some issues concerning women’s ownership in agriculture.  Women accounted for 18 per cent of directors of companies, 23 per cent of heads of local government and 32 per cent of parliamentarians.  The number of local governments in general was decreasing, resulting in fewer parliamentary seats.  Women must account for a minimum of 40 per cent of the first five seats in Parliament.  However, that minimum should be raised to 50 per cent.


Another delegate added that various measures were under way to increase women’s participation in Parliament.  The Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Security had held a special seminar, chaired by female parliamentarians, aimed at increasing their participation.  After the 2006 local municipality elections, the Centre for Gender Equality sent new members informational materials on how to increase women’s participation.


Experts’ Comments and Questions


RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, regretted that there were few women in top academic posts.  The previous country report discussed an action plan by the University of Iceland to ensure women’s participation in academic management.  However, there was no follow-up on it in the current reports.  What was the status of that and other action plans?  What was their implementation timetable?  Was there affirmative action to encourage more women in middle-management academic posts?


Country Response


Ms. GUNNSTEINSDOTTIR said that the University of Iceland’s action plan on gender equality had been very successful and was currently being revised to account for recent administrative changes in academia.  Women academics had been able to bridge the pay gap.  The number of female professors was growing, as was the percentage of university educated women.  Women had launched affirmative action to increase their participation in high-level private sector posts.  The rector of the University of Iceland, the country’s largest university, was a woman. 


Experts’ Comments and Questions


PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, wanted to know how the wide wage gaps in the public sector were being addressed and whether any of the committees set up to review those and other disparities had been resolved.  Are women fairly represented with trade unions that negotiate with the Ministry of Finance and other Government ministries?  Could the delegation provide an update on the position of the Fisheries Ministry with respect to women?


Ms. XIAOQIAO, expert from China, wanted to know what obstacles had been encountered in conducting investigations since the report indicated that investigations had not been done.  Given that females had not received as much capital as males -- a violation of the requirements of the Convention –- she asked what measures Iceland was taking to ensure that both women and men received an equal share of available subsidies and resources. She noted the special problems encountered by handicapped women in employment, and asked how the Government was working to prevent such discrimination in the labour market. 


MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, said the reason given in the report for the numbers of women in part-time employment -- that women tended to have more family responsibilities -- was just as striking as the contradictory statement in the report that women tended to have less motivation to hold such jobs.  Further, surveys had indicated that women were more likely to let family and home commitments influence their course in the labour market.  What Government measures had been put in place to change these patterns of behaviour?


Country Response


Ms. GUNNSTEINSDOTTIR confirmed the figures cited in the report.  Indeed women in Iceland were extremely well represented in the labour market.  She said it was also true that 38 per cent of women held part-time jobs and 62 per cent were fully-employed.  However, those figures were misleading, taken on their face value.  Many of those defined as part-time employees actually worked more than 20 hours per week, while the combined average number of hours for part-time and full-time workers was approximately 36 per week.


She reiterated, “Therefore these numbers are a little misleading.  Because of the economic situation and the unemployment rates, they tend to overshadow the jobs available.  Jobs are in fact there.”  Additionally, mothers of children under the age of seven had been increasing their working hours, owing to an increase in the number of high-quality and affordable childcare facilities in the country.  Those were locally-run public, subsidised institutions. 


The public sector was dominated by female professional groups, which were also in the professional unions, she said, adding that the ratio was a little less, however, in the private sector.  On the private market, the negotiating power of the woman was also protected.  The negotiating skills of individuals played an important role in that regard.  “I am sad to say, however, that often women are let down by their individual negotiating skills even though they may have better education over their male counterparts,” she noted.


A member of the delegation added that a change in public attitudes in the country was needed, such as the positive change observed of more and more men taking up the responsibility of looking after children.  That had been well received by employers throughout the county.  Women too had positively changed their attitude and been recognized that they were not working merely for the money, but as equal contributors to the family and the nation.


On women with disabilities and the labour market, she said there were reserved work places and jobs for the disabled, in addition to special measures and rehabilitation facilities for such persons.


Experts’ Comments and Questions


SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, noting that midwives were involved in prenatal childbirth courses for women, asked why doctors, psychologists and nurses were not involved.  Recently, for the first time in several decades, more women than men had been diagnosed with HIV in Iceland.  What strategies were there to prevent HIV in girls and women, and were those strategies gender-based?  She asked for data on the mental health of women with disabilities and elderly women. 


Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, asked what conscious efforts were being undertaken to make the Convention legally applicable in terms of health services.  She noted that the report said women had higher morbidity than men, but contained more data on men’s health than women’s health.  Thus, she asked for more data on women’s health concerns.


Ms. BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, asked about health packages for elderly and disabled women, particularly in rural areas.  Were there modern hospitals in rural areas?  Also, what health-care services and testing for diseases were available for women in rural areas?


Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, asked how many women owned agricultural land and what the requirements were for ownership.  Was there an action plan to carry out proposed amendments to improve women’s land ownership rights?  What initiatives were in place under the current action plan to improve women’s opportunities in the labour market and to encourage them to run their own businesses?  How many rural women had benefited from such initiatives?  What steps was the Government taking to end the gender imbalance in the granting of funds for businesses in rural areas?


Country Response


A delegate said Iceland’s health-care system standards were very high.  Iceland had among the world’s lowest infant and maternal mortality rates.  In the past, it was common for women to deliver their babies at home.  Midwives were highly educated.  All of them were nurses who had also undergone an additional two years of midwife schooling.  They informed doctors of childbirth situations that required a physician’s attention and referred women in those situations to physicians.  Alcohol use was in fact increasing among women, but there was a tremendous decrease in tobacco use.  Iceland had a drug problem, which was growing and was part of organized crime.  Icelandic authorities were trying to find ways to tackle it.  Cancer rates were growing in Iceland, as in other parts of Western Europe.  Breast cancer rates were growing slightly in Iceland.


Another delegate said married women or women who cohabitated with partners had the right to 50 per cent ownership of their shared land.  The Minister of Industry had asked universities to study the issue of gender mainstreaming of funds for agri-business.  She acknowledged that the gender imbalance in the usage of such funds was a problem. 


Ms. GUNNSTEINSDOTTIR said there were very few cases of new HIV infections among women, and those were due largely to drug use.  Concerning assistance for rape victims, the State hospital in Reykjavik and another hospital in the country’s north had centres for rape victims.  Too few rape cases were presented and tried in the courts, she acknowledged.


Experts’ Comments and Questions


Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, said the reports had made no reference to articles 15 and 16 of the Convention, which concerned the responsibilities of States parties in legal matters, including marriage.  Was mediation a growing practice in Iceland?  Did it exist in cases of divorce?  Were there safety measures for curbing domestic violence?  Had there been social research on joint custody cases?  Was the delegation aware of the fact that men sometimes used joint custody as a way to reduce alimony payments?  Was earning potential taken into account when determining the distribution of a couple’s joint property upon divorce?  Was the economic state of both partners to the union taken into account, or were divorce settlements based on an even split of assets?


Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, asked how many women heads of households existed in rural and urban areas due to divorce, abandonment or death.  What happened if a father defaulted on payments to the family?  When a man died, did a spouse and his children inherit his assets?  Did migrants’ wives have the same rights as Icelandic citizens?  Did older women have a right to alimony and to a share of her husband’s assets upon divorce?  What services were offered to widows and single parents?  What was the divorce rate and was it on the rise?


Country Response


A delegate said she did not have divorce figures readily available.  However, the divorce rate was in fact declining due in part to paternity leave.  Fathers’ growing role in child-rearing was strengthening the family.  She did not have data on the number of elderly women in the country.  Property was divided evenly in divorce settlements.  If a man died, his former wife had no rights to his assets, but his children from that previous marriage did. 


Another delegate said there was a trend towards shared custody, but the child would have his or her legal address in one place, usually the mother’s home.  That meant the mother received alimony regardless of visitation rights or other agreements about the amount of time the child spent with each parent.  In terms of a divorced woman’s earning potential, there was a support system to help single mothers.  There was no employment-related stigma in Iceland for divorced women, single mothers or widowed mothers.  They were not discriminated against in the labour market.  A total of 15.1 per cent of households were headed by single mothers, and 1.3 per cent of households were headed by single fathers.


A member of the delegation further explained that there were institutions in the country that supervised and administered the disbursement and distribution of alimony and child support payments and pension funds for divorced couples.


In the case of pensions, those were always divided on a “50-50” basis, regardless of any disparity in earnings between the woman and man.


Experts’ Comments and Questions


Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, wanted to know whether the father was responsible for payment when a couple that occupied a joint apartment divorced, and also if the man was required to pay alimony for the wife and children if the wife did not work.


Country Response


In reply, Ms. GUNNSTEINSDOTTIR stated that, if it was decided that the woman would continue to live in the apartment after divorce, the man was not supposed to pay her rent, but would pay the alimony for the children.  The municipalities would normally provide for the rental needs of the woman in that situation.  However, there had been cases where the man was wealthy enough and had offered to pay double and, in at least one case, even four times as much for a child’s support. 


To another question, she said that, to her knowledge, there was no record of charges being brought as a result of “decriminalization in prostitution”.


Concluding Remarks


Summing up, the head of delegation, Ms. GUNNSTEINSDOTTIR, thanked members for the opportunity to have put forward Iceland’s case and said it was not by design if there had been any questions not satisfactorily answered by her delegation, but rather due to a mere unavailability of information.  She pledged to follow up on any such questions and committed to making that information available in Iceland’s next report.


Summarizing the debate, Chairperson ŠIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, describing the session as frank and open, said it was important for each State party to the Convention to make the document as widely available to its citizenry as possible, thereby raising the visibility of the Convention at the national level, with a view to its implementation.


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For information media • not an official record