24 July 2009
General Assembly
WOM/1744

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

Committee on Elimination of

 Discrimination against Women

Chamber B, 892nd & 893rd Meetings (AM & PM)


AZERBAIJAN, DESPITE CONFLICT, HAS PUT IN PLACE RANGE OF MEASURES TO ACHIEVE GENDER


EQUALITY, DELEGATION FROM CAPITAL TELLS WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE


Azerbaijan has instituted a wide array of initiatives for gender equality in a short period, despite recent conflict, experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women said today, while at the same time expressing concern over trafficking in persons, the low percentage of women in decision-making positions and other issues.


Introducing the country’s fourth periodic report on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, Hijran Huseynova, Chairperson of the State Committee for Family, Women and Children’s Issues, assured the expert Committee which monitor’s the treaty’s implementation that, despite dealing with the problems of the lasting territorial dispute that had displaced more than 1 million persons, her Government was fully committed to ensuring gender equality and protecting women’s rights in all spheres.


She said that the report, covering the period 2004 to 2008, showed such major developments as the establishment of the State Committee for Family, Women and Children’s Affairs at the ministerial level in 2006, the national machinery responsible for formulating and pursuing State policy on all aspects of women’s rights and empowerment, along with the implementation of the women’s Convention.


The Convention, its Optional Protocol -- a communications procedure that allows individuals to submit claims of rights violations to the Committee, and enables the Committee to initiate inquiries into situations of grave or systematic violations of women’s rights -- and the Committee’s last set of recommendations had been translated into the Azerbaijani language and were widely disseminated, she said.  The recommendations had been discussed with State bodies and Parliament in order to integrate them into the policy formulation.  Collaboration with local non-governmental organizations had been greatly enhanced.


In addition, she said that a budgeting system had been established to guarantee equal division of financial resources among the sexes.  In 2008, the Government had allocated $120,000 for gender-equality and women’s empowerment programmes, and thus far in 2009, had already dispersed $600,000.


In accordance with previous recommendations of the Committee, she said, an amendment to the Family Code had been proposed to equalize the minimum marriage age for women and men, and the relevant parliamentary commission had predicted enactment during the 2009 fall session of the legislature.  In addition, a draft law had been conceived to address domestic violence, containing protective measures, counselling, rehabilitation and support services for female victims, as well as guidelines for the punishment of perpetrators.  An accompanying national strategy also aimed to combat domestic violence against displaced persons.


International experts had been commissioned to prepare a national strategy for combating violence against women that would accompany the legislation, she said, adding that the entire initiative had been greeted by a great deal of public debate and awareness-raising through the use of celebrities, mass media and workshops in rural areas.  The delegate also described initiatives to reduce unemployment, increase access to education, raise awareness on gender equality and prevent marginalization of women, particularly those in vulnerable groups.


Following Ms. Huseynova’s presentation, many of the Committee’s experts commended Azerbaijan’s efforts to comply with the Convention and to conduct in-depth budgetary analysis from a gender perspective.  However, they wondered why legislation on violence against women and changes to the Civil Code had taken so long to accomplish.  In addition, they expressed concern over the low percentage of women in political positions and in higher education, as well as the existence of early marriages.


Of great concern as well was the matter of trafficking in persons, which the Committee members maintained was a very serious problem for the country, as it was both a country of origin and transit.  They cited media reports of the involvement of police and other low-level officials in trafficking and they pointed out that the subject had not been included in the presentation of the report.


In their responses, the delegation said that trafficking in persons was indeed a crime in Azerbaijan and that law enforcement was working to stop it.  In addition, there were social programmes that aimed to keep women from becoming vulnerable to trafficking and to assist victims.  They said that the reports of the involvement of police and other officials had not been substantiated.


Much work had been done to change the Civil Code to equalize the age of marriage, and to change traditional attitudes towards early marriage, the delegation said.  Religious marriages did exist, but religious authorities in the country would not marry couples without them obtaining a civil marriage as well.


The delegation acknowledged that many challenges remained in those and other areas, however, it assured the Committee that its input was greatly appreciated and directly used to help the Government meet challenges towards the achievement of gender equality and the elimination of discrimination against women.


The Committee will meet again to review Switzerland’s third periodic report at 10 a.m. on Monday, 27 July.


Background


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) met today to review the fourth periodic report of Azerbaijan (document CEDAW/C/AZE/4).


The report was introduced by Hijran Huseynova, Chairperson of the State Committee for Family, Women and Children’s Issues.  The country’s delegation also included Agshin Mehdiyev of the State Committee for Family, Women and Children’s Issues; Oruj Zalov, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs; Natig Mammadov, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Protection; Irada Huseynova, Deputy Minister of Education; Murad Najafbayli, Chief of the Department of International Law and Treaties; and Faig Gurbanov, Chief of the Department of Human Rights and Public Relations.


Introduction of Report


Ms. HUSEYNOVA said that, despite the problems of the lasting territorial dispute, including more than 1 million refugees and internally displaced persons, her Government was fully committed to ensuring gender equality and protecting women’s rights in all spheres.


The report, she said, mainly covered the period 2004 to 2008, though some recent developments were included.  Major developments in the reporting period included the establishment of the State Committee for Family, Women and Children’s Affairs at the ministerial level in 2006, the national machinery responsible for formulating and pursuing State policy on all aspects of women’s rights and empowerment, along with the implementation of the women’s Convention.


The Convention, the Optional Protocol and the Committee’s recommendations had all been translated into the Azerbaijani language and were widely disseminated, she said.  Previous recommendations of the Committee had been discussed with State bodies and Parliament in order to integrate them into the formulation of policy.  At the same time, collaboration with local non-governmental organizations had been greatly enhanced.  A gender budgeting system had been established in conjunction with the United Nations country team and public debate was ongoing to guarantee equal division of financial resources among the sexes.  A book on “Gender Review of the Budget of Azerbaijan” had been published.  In 2008, the Government had allocated $120,000, but thus far in 2009, it had already dispersed $600,000 for activities to ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment.


In accordance with the Committee’s previous recommendations, an amendment to the Family Code had been proposed to equalize the minimum marriage age for genders, she said, adding that the relevant parliamentary commission had predicted enactment during the 2009 fall session of the legislature.  In addition, a series of measures had been conceived to address domestic violence, including a draft law that contained protective measures, such as shelters, counselling, rehabilitation and support services for female victims, as well as guidelines for the punishment of perpetrators.  It also provided for the creation of a statistical database on the problem.  International experts had been commissioned to prepare a national strategy for combating violence against women that would accompany the legislation.  The entire initiative had been greeted by a great deal of public debate and awareness-raising through the use of celebrities, mass media and workshops in rural areas.  That awareness-raising, along with an announced zero-tolerance policy, had increased women’s reporting of violent incidents.


She said that, under the programme to combat domestic violence, women refugees and internally displaced persons were offered a comprehensive range of services, which not only targeted violence, but also aimed to reduce unemployment, increase access to education, raise awareness on gender equality and prevent marginalization.  As a result of such measures, the poverty rate among internally displaced persons had been reduced from 74 per cent to 35 per cent during the past five years.  Other socially vulnerable groups of women and girls, from single mothers to the elderly to women released from prison, were targeted by the employment strategy approved in 2007.  The State programme on poverty reduction and sustainable development also fully incorporated a gender component.


The lack of balance in decision-making positions and the prevalence of women in low-paid jobs in education and health care had been subjected to studies that showed that armed conflict and psychological barriers had been the greatest obstacles to equality, she continued.  State programmes on economic development had stimulated the development of women’s micro and medium-size enterprises in rural areas and had increased the percentage of women entrepreneurs in agriculture, tourism, health care, carpet weaving and other areas.  Business training centres were established and, in 2005, the Association of Women Entrepreneurs had been created to strengthen the positive trends.  In addition, the State Committee on Family had established a council consisting of focal points from all ministries and other State bodies to mainstream gender equality and related issues into their structures.


As a result of those programmes, there had been a considerable increase of women in spheres that had previously lacked their representation, she said, pointing to many women in positions as high as Deputy Prime Minister, and the increase of women deputies with executive power in the regions -- 35 in the 85 regions, and 45 women heads of departments of executive bodies.  Those numbers were still insufficient, she admitted, and the Government would push for more women ministers and heads of local administration in coming years.  In that respect, she described the third national Congress of Azerbaijani Women held in Baku in 2008.  In addition, more than 500 women from each region were being introduced to gender guidelines and programmes through seminars, special training and publications.


Important amendments to the Labour and Family Codes had been made to ensure better balance of work and family life, and to remove barriers to equality of opportunity, she said.  Campaigns had been launched to combat stereotypical roles and discrimination, including activities at universities in 2008.  Workshops on relevant legal issues had recently been organized jointly with the Ministries of Justice and Internal Affairs, the General Prosecutor’s Office, law enforcement officials and the Supreme Court.  The Health Ministry had also considerably increased the number and quality of health-care services in the regions and there was an improvement in rural women’s access to health care, especially to reproductive health centres.  In addition, the education of women and girls was a priority of many State programmes, mobilizing all related agencies on rectifying situations where the percentage of girls entering universities was lower.


Experts’ Comments and Questions


PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, welcomed what she called a great amount of progress achieved in a short period of time in Azerbaijan.  She asked if the judiciary was being trained on the scope of the Convention and if women were actually bringing complaints before the courts and other bodies.


NIKLAS BRUUN, expert from Finland, asked if the Convention had been used in practice in the legal system and how it was assured that the judiciary was not influenced by the stronger parties involved in lawsuits.


DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, asked why changes in essential laws took so long and how they could be accomplished more quickly.  She also wanted to know how complaints of discrimination could be pursued by women.


Country Response


The delegation said that training of judges and other workers in the legal and law enforcement systems were continually held at all levels, many in conjunction with international organizations.  Journals, Internet sites and other materials were also used for that purpose, along with a special manual published each year on the Convention’s provisions.  Treaty provisions were also disseminated continuously at a range of workshops.


As far as complaints being taken to court, in 2008 there had been three complaints that held up in court by women who had been fired because they were pregnant, the delegation said.  In 2008, 800,000 complaints had been made on property issues, with complaints made regarding violence and other problems.  On discriminatory laws, certain kinds of “positive discrimination” had been written into the laws in the areas of pension rights, marriage, military service and divorce.  In general, international laws held up well against national laws.  The new codex, constitutional changes and other legal changes had all been drafted bearing in mind Azerbaijani gender-equality legislation.


In 2000 in Azerbaijan, a three-stage court system had been instituted, which had sparked ongoing judicial reform and improved access to the legal system in rural areas and for vulnerable people, who had been targeted by many programmes.  Women’s complaints to the courts were taken very seriously, in order to strengthen trust in the courts, among other reasons.  Regarding the length of time it took to change civil codes, delegates said that the changes were significant, so they were difficult to accomplish in a shorter time period.


Experts’ comments and questions


VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, said she was impressed by the machinery that had been developed in Azerbaijan, along with the budgetary programmes.  She wanted more details, however, on the poverty reduction programme and the monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of all the gender-equality mechanisms that had been instituted.  She asked if the Action Plan for the Protection of Human Rights, similarly, had time frames for implementation, along with monitoring and review mechanisms.  Finally, she disagreed that the discriminatory provisions of Azerbaijani laws, in relation to military service and pensions, were necessarily positive, and pointed to what she thought might be a misunderstanding of the special temporary measures called for by the Convention, asking for a more detailed explanation of them.


NICOLE AMELINE, expert from France, asked for more details on the effectiveness of the new law against domestic violence, as well as timetables involved with the forthcoming law against domestic violence.


SOLEDAD MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, said she saw great commitment in Azerbaijan to overcoming its problems.  Consideration of the plight of internally displaced persons was particularly important.  Concerning refugees, she asked if issues of domestic violence entered into consideration of refugee status.  She also asked for further details about efforts to prevent domestic violence.


VIOLET TSISIGA AWORI, expert from Kenya, turned to the issue of human trafficking, saying that she had not heard anything on that during the presentation.  Referring to the report, she said that there was still a failure to recognize the scope of the problem.  There was also evidence of corruption among low-level judicial and law enforcement officials.  She also asked about steps to raise awareness of the problem and redress the lack of shelters for trafficking victims.


ZOHRA RASEKH, expert from Afghanistan, welcoming the country’s accomplishments in the area of women’s equality, said that Azerbaijan was a country of both origin and transit for trafficking, so the problem required a focused response.  She asked about preventive measures, punishments for perpetrators and services for victims.


Country Response


The delegation explained that the gender committees in Parliament covered the full spectrum of women’s issues and worked together with all the gender machinery of the country.  Regarding the Action Plan to protect women, since it was a plan that emanated from the President, all State bodies were involved, and monitoring was accomplished by regular, stringent reports.  There might appear to be some duplication of work, but that gave additional impetus to the programmes.  In every regional centre, there were now structures that dealt with women’s issues and there were central data gathering points for all those efforts.


Legislation on domestic violence was always difficult, a delegate said.  Azerbaijan’s delay in adopting a relevant law had been caused by working through all the problems involved, including lobbying in the Parliament against the opposition to the law and an awareness-raising campaign throughout the capital and the regions.  She was convinced that in a few months the bill would be adopted.  It was not merely a question of men being against the draft law and women being for it; the need for the bill was being questioned.


There was a main shelter for victims of trafficking that was also available to victims of domestic violence, the delegation said.  More shelters were planned, but the good functioning, and not the number of shelters, was the most important factor.  The country had acceded to all international agreements on trafficking, and data was being gathered in increasing detail.  The second Plan of Action to fight trafficking had been drawn up for the period 2009-2013.  Legal mechanisms had been set up to fight the threat and strategies had been drawn up to assist victims.  Cooperation with international efforts, strengthening of identification methods and work with non-governmental organizations had steadily increased.  Trafficking in human beings was recognized as a crime, with 76 cases investigated in 2008, alone.  The delegation also described social services that aimed at preventing trafficking, and more generally benefited women, including hotlines and crisis centres for youth.


The Action Plan on Human Rights adopted in 2006 was comprehensive, they said.  It was targeted at strengthening the rights of both vulnerable groups and individuals.  Most of the activities involved in the Plan were ongoing and systematic, so there was no time scale for them.  There was much attention to combating violence against women and trafficking in the Plan, with specific responsibilities for State structures and provisions for cooperation with non-governmental organizations.


In other areas, they said that special temporary measures had been instituted for the goal of gender equality.  In addition, they affirmed that there was criminal liability for rape and other forcible sex, with no requirement for proof of resistance on the part of the women victims.  There was, further, an integrated network of organizations and structures related to women’s issues.


Experts’ comments and questions


In follow-up queries, Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, and Ms. PATTEN, expert from Bangladesh, asked for details on programmes for the protection of women.  Ms. AWORI, expert from Kenya, stressed that violence against women and trafficking in persons were serious offences and sentences had to be issued accordingly.  Ms. RASEKH asked for explanations of the involvement of police officers in trafficking that had been reported in the media, as well as protections available for women in cases of harassment in the workplace.


Country response


Punishment for violence against women and harassment was prescribed by the criminal codes and labour codes, respectively, the delegation said.  Women had access to the justice system in those areas.  Punishments for domestic violence could not be predetermined because they were subject to the justice system and the draft law that was now in process.  The forthcoming laws should fill most gaps in that area.  There had been no cases of law enforcement officials involved in trafficking of human beings, despite much monitoring and media attention.  There were many more shelters now being planned.  They appealed, finally, for international assistance to women who suffered psychological violence due to the territorial disputes that had plagued the country.


Experts’ Comments And Questions


Turning to women’s participation in decision-making positions, Ms. MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, expressed concerns over the low number of women in Parliament -- 14 -- and the low percentage of women in decision-making positions.  Specific measures should be taken to ensure that women stood for election and received the higher education they needed to enter the judiciary, business fields and other areas.


MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, noted that, according to the Azerbaijani Constitution, conflicts between the Convention and domestic law must be adjudicated in favour of the Convention.  The tools therefore existed to ensure that women were fully represented, and all efforts should be expended to make sure that that happened, starting with local elections.


Ms. AMELINE, expert from France, asked if there were plans to reform the Electoral Code to promote women’s participation.


Country Response


The delegation described programmes for training targeted at women, initiatives to empower rural women in business and other managerial endeavours.  As the country advanced economically, opportunities and attitudes had changed, allowing women to advance as well.  Counselling programmes were encouraging women to pursue careers that were not stereotypically enjoyed by women, and little by little, there were role models in that regard, including a General and 100 judges.  It was usually the women that needed to be convinced to apply for important posts.


Experts’ Comments and Questions


Turning to education, BARBARA EVELYN BAILEY, expert from Jamaica, said that there was inadequate information in the report on access to primary education.  Reasons for low participation of girls were also unclear, but poverty, early marriage and traditional stereotypes clearly contributed.  She also wanted more information on discriminatory messages in textbooks, as well as specific information on results of initiatives in the educational sphere.  She wondered if there was segregation of girls in the education system.


Regarding equal employment and pay, Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, commended the Government on measures to promote women’s advancement and assist those facing difficulties in the labour market.  She asked what measures were envisioned to narrow the wage gap between men and women and what mechanisms existed to deal with wage discrimination and to readjust pay rates in careers in which women were more prevalent.


Mr. BRUUN, expert from Finland, sought clarification on the rates of women’s unemployment and more information on initiatives to promote women’s access to private-sector jobs.  He also asked for more information on the sanctions applied when sexual harassment occurred.


Ms. AMELINE, expert from France, urged that women be incorporated in political and economic reconstruction.  She asked what kind of programmes ensured equal employment in private enterprise, particularly in areas in which the economy was expanding.


Country Response


The delegation said that universal primary education was a priority in Azerbaijan and was mandatory by law.  The Government had increased transport assistance to those in rural areas, for whom distance and disabilities presented obstacles.  Women made up nearly half of those engaged in educational training and represented 68 per cent of those receiving special vocational training.  There were processes under way in the Government to expand access to secondary and university education.  There were also ongoing initiatives to study the effects of early marriage and other obstacles to equal education.  The Government had focused on assisting agricultural businesses, prioritizing women, because the rural areas were hardest-hit during the period of conflict.  Fertilizers and equipment were subsidized.


Employers were obligated under the law to treat both genders equally, the delegation affirmed.  The public sector had a standard schedule of salaries, with no difference in scales for men and women.  Economic growth had reduced the poverty rate greatly, and employment had risen correspondingly, with a sharp rise in good quality jobs and rural employment in the private sector.  Women were prepared for the labour market in many ways.  Many programmes were held in coordination with the Internal Labour Organization (ILO).  Regarding sexual harassment, laws threatened violators with fines and complaints could be brought to courts.  Victims were duly compensated.


Experts’ Comments and Questions


ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, commended the Government on its extension of access to health-care services.  She expressed concern, however, over the increase in abortions and maternal deaths.  She asked about the underlying reasons and about the extent of family planning coverage.  She also sought more detailed information on the situation of rural women and Government measures to counter poverty among them.


Ms. RASEKH, expert from Afghanistan, asked about the maternal mortality rate in rural areas and sought clarification on maternal health clinics.  She wanted additional information about programmes to counter HIV/AIDS, as well as those for family planning, women with disabilities and psychological health.


Country Response


The delegation said that there had been intense consultation with the World Health Organization (WHO) on lowering the maternal death rate and improving maternal health.  Despite that, there had been a rise in such deaths through 2005, but since then, the rates had been lowered through decentralization of services.  Some 300 new health institutions had been built in the past few years, mainly in rural areas and mainly Government-funded.


There were also specific plans for anti-HIV/AIDS efforts and other areas of reproductive health, they said.  The use of contraceptives had risen with international aid, but now import of free contraceptives had almost stopped, and abortions had risen.  Contraceptives must now be included in State-provided medical provisions, as all medications.  Much health care was free and provided by the Government.


As for services for persons with disabilities, all women in that category received either benefits or pensions.  Rehabilitation, prostheses and equipment were provided as part of the free health services, along with accommodation if needed.  There were also Special Olympics and other programmes.


Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, asked what kind of changes to the marriage age were included in the coming amendments to the civil codes.  She also wanted to know if traditional or religious marriage existed in parallel or if it existed in the private sector alone.


Ms. AWORI, expert from Kenya, expressed concerns in the same areas.


Country Response


Much work had been done in the new family codes to settle the marriage age, the delegation said, adding that it was nearly certain that the changes would be made in the next few months.  In the area of marriage contracts, through which both sides recognized each others’ rights, much progress had been made.  Medical tests before marriage were being encouraged, but could not be made compulsive at this point.


Religion was separate from the State in Azerbaijan, the delegates said, but the Government worked with the religious authorities.  Religious authorities did not allow religious marriages without corresponding civil ones.  Much work had been carried out to stop early or forced marriage, and that had greatly reduced those practices.  Those matters were still being actively discussed in the public sphere as well as in educational institutions.


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