NEED FOR SLOVENIA TO IMPROVE WOMEN'S POLITICAL PARTICIPATION RECOGNIZED BY DELEGATION IN WOMEN'S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE19970120
Noting the continued decline of the number of women in Parliament, a representative of Slovenia this afternoon acknowledged the necessity for further national efforts to improve women's political participation, as that country's delegation discussed further its initial report on implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
The delegation of Slovenia was responding to questions put forward on 15 January by the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women -- the monitoring body of the only United Nations treaty that deals exclusively with women's rights.
Slovenia had only been independent for five years, she told the Committee experts, and quotas for political participation were now associated with the socialist period of Government. They had been used to determine representation on various political bodies -- but, unfortunately, the real decision-making power was concentrated in the hands of a few strong personalities. In addition, democratization reopened the door to traditional and conservative values, which once again had gained credibility and become socially acceptable.
Experts cautioned about the dangers of the legacy of the socialist era, often taking the form of conservative trends which threatened the advancement of women. The effects of conservative policies of the Western world stressing the "privacy of the family" should not be allowed to intrude upon equal opportunity. Education of the whole society and affirmative action programmes thus became even more important to counter and overcome sex stereotypes and traditional views. More concern should be shown for single-parent families, particularly when they were female-headed, to protect them from descending into poverty.
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In countering expert's observations which had questioned the function of the Office for Women's Policy, the delegation highlighted the Office's significance and its influence as a government advisory body. The opportunity to establish such a national mechanism in 1992 was too important to postpone in favour of the lengthy legal process required to establish a new ministry, they stressed.
The Slovenian delegation presented detailed elements of the government plans for promoting equal opportunity in the workplace, education and health care. The feminization of certain professions, such as health care, and the subsequent decline in wages were also described as cause for concern.
Following the Slovenia response, the experts continued their dialogue on their working methods. Committee members focused particularly on the value of specialized questioning of country reports. Several experts stressed the importance of such questioning in order to focus the Committee's response and avoid repetition.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 21 January, to hear the response of the delegation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to Committee questions posed during the presentation of that country's combined reports on 16 January.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was scheduled this afternoon to hear the response of the delegation of Slovenia to questions on that country's initial report on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (document CEDAW/C/SVN/1).
Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. They are also committed under article 18 of the Convention to submit national reports, one year after becoming a State party and then at least once every four years, on legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations. The Committee of experts reviews the report and formulates general recommendations to the States parties on eliminating discrimination against women.
As a newly formed democratic republic, the country's initial report states, Slovenia has seen the establishment of government and civil society committees and organizations whose task is to bring into practice the principle of equality between the sexes. For example, the Committee for Women's Politics, founded in 1990, works to encourage the passage of laws which will ensure that women have the possibility to achieve equal status in all spheres of life, as well as reaffirm gains already achieved. In addition, the Office for Women's Politics, founded by government decree in 1992, operates as an independent government advisory service. Its main guideline is the realization of the declared equal rights of men and women, as well as creating equal opportunities in all fields.
The report stresses that the fundamental provisions prohibiting any discrimination against women in Slovenia can be found in the Constitution. Equality is also ensured by legislation. Of particular concern to the Office of Women's Politics has been the growth of domestic violence. In 1993, the Office presented a number of proposals, including a fund to redress victims and the establishment of family courts.
In the presentation of the report on 15 January, the representative of Slovenia said the main obstacle to gender equality in Slovenia was the poor participation of women in the political decision-making process. The first democratic elections had actually meant a decline in the share of women in political decision-making. Unexpectedly, the latest elections had reduced even further women's representation. Such poor representation of women was surprising since efforts by the Office for Women's Politics to increase the share of women in politics had been extensive in the pre-election period.
In the general comments on the report, experts questioned the actual power and status of the Office and requested a more detailed description of
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its function, funding and position in the government. Some experts stressed that unless conscientious efforts were made by the Government on affirmative action, the position of women would not improve. Affirmative action programmes were applicable to many fields ranging from health and politics to the problems facing rural women, as well as general consciousness-raising goals. (For further background on the report of Slovenia, see Press Release WOM/931 of 15 January.)
Response to Questions
VERA KOZMIK (Slovenia) presented her Government's response to Committee questions on its initial report. She said when the former Yugoslavia ratified the Convention, it was translated into the Slovenian language and distributed publicly. Following Slovenia's succession to the Convention in 1993, it was published along with the country's initial report and sent to all governmental and public institutions, non-governmental organizations and many institutions. The Office for Women's Policy was responsible for publicizing the Convention.
Further efforts were needed to improve women's political participation, she continued. Just over 17 per cent of the candidates for the National Assembly were women who made up only 7.8 per cent of those elected in 1996, down from 13.3 per cent in 1992 and 15 per cent in 1990. The Parliamentary Committee for Women's Policy, which was founded in 1990, has 13 members, including four men. Between 1992 to 1996, it was headed by a female member of the leading party.
The Office, which was founded by government decree in July 1992, is an independent government advisory service, she said. Its budget of $349,202 is approved by Parliament. Its responsibilities include monitoring women's position in Slovenia and the implementation of their rights guaranteed under the Constitution, the law and international treaties. It also discusses government acts, measures and regulations, as well as non-governmental organization initiatives. It initiated legislation and reviewed it before it was adopted.
There were no units for women's affairs within ministries, and promoting gender equality in all government policies and strengthening national mechanisms on equality was an important priority, she said. It was an Office instead of a Ministry of Women's Affairs, because in order to establish the latter the law on the number of ministries would have had to be changed and that demand could have stopped any progress in setting up national machinery on women's affairs.
KOMAN PERENIC then answered questions on legislative and constitutional measures. She said Slovenia's Constitution prohibited all forms of discrimination against women, guaranteed the right to work and regulated marriage based on the equality of spouses. Marriage, the legal rights and
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obligations following from marriage, as well as outside marriage, were determined by law which also protected the family, motherhood, fatherhood, children and young people. The Constitution and the law both referred to men in terms of their parental roles, and women in terms of their maternal roles. Although some legislation had been changed, many important areas needed review and the Office of Women's Affairs would be extremely careful to determine any indirect discrimination of women.
So far, the Constitutional Court had not entertained a case on the conformity of national laws with the Convention. An ombudsman supervised all relations between government bodies and citizens in connection with the protection of individual rights. The proposal to establish a gender equality ombudsman would be included in the National Programme for promoting gender equality.
Ms. KOZMIK spoke on constraints and obstacles to achieve equality between women and men. For the time being, its goal was to ensure equality of opportunity and promotion of human rights when changing legislation and to make sure it was in keeping with international standards and agreements. The Office was well informed about various affirmative actions in other countries, but their positive experience could not be transferred to Slovenia. It needed to assess the effects of new legislation and review temporary measures in view of the dynamic economic changes in society. The Constitution guaranteed minority rights. Research had shown there was not much difference in the problems affecting minority and other women.
The increasing number of single parents was not a matter of concern as responsibilities regarding children were the same regardless of the family structure, she said. Special attention was being given to reconciling family and working life. The media and advertising industry had been asked to refrain from presenting women as sexual objects, and the Code of the Advertising Chamber included a chapter on sexual stereotypes. As a result of increasing public awareness, several advertisements had been withdrawn.
Turning to the issue of violence against women, she said in the last 10 years, public discussions had broken the solid walls of silence surrounding the problem. There were now 12 help lines for women victims of abuse, operated by non-governmental organizations with government funding. The Office for Women's Affairs had organized round-table discussions on violence against women, and the resulting proposals had been included in legislation which would be part of the national programme for action. However, detection and prevention was difficult because the "private sphere" was considered untouchable. Intervention in families was inefficient and physical and sexual abuse often went unreported. The police had been well educated on how to handle victims who were entitled to female investigating officers and medical personnel.
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She said sexual harassment was a new issue in Slovenia, although it was now being reported in the media. People were learning to recognize it and how to avoid it. The first case of sexual harassment was currently before the courts. Although not legal, prostitution was not a criminal offence; procurement was. Legislation was being prepared to protect the rights of prostitutes, recognize their occupational status and guarantee social and health security.
Addressing women's falling numbers in Parliament, she said Slovenia was a very young country, and "quotas" were seen as part of the old regime. Ironically, democratization had opened the door to traditional and conservative values which were now seen as "modern". Although religion and State were separated, Catholic values exerted an influence. Another factor was the newness of political system with many political parties still being formed and the struggle for places on candidates' lists was severe.
Ms. PERENIC spoke about female representation in the judiciary. She said 60 per cent of judges were women, and their numbers had not fallen in the last few years. On the higher courts, 46 per cent of women were judges. Their numbers were increasing and they were now in key positions. In the Supreme Court, nine out of a total of 31 judges were women.
Ms. KOZMIK said the number of women in diplomacy was increasing. Last year, a new department for diplomacy was established, and half of its students were women. She then outlined the status of education for women. A gradual systematic policy which aimed to encourage girls and boys and men and women to enter non-traditional occupations was being included in the draft national programme for promoting gender equality. There was no institute of women's studies or gender studies to carry out research on those topics, although the University of Ljubljana offered courses in sociology of culture and the faculty of sciences offered courses on sexism, gender and family. Sexism could also be studied as part of post-graduate programmes. The national programme for promoting gender equality included a demand for gender studies.
In contrast to other post-communist countries, Slovenia had a tradition of well-organized day-care system for children, due to the high percentage of working women, she continued. As the country's economy was in transition, the new Law on Labour Relations reflected those changes. The Office of Women's Affairs was aware of the principles of "equal pay for equal work" and "equal pay for work of equal value" and encouraged discussion on the issues. Approximately 55 per cent of trade union membership were women, but they did not hold leadership positions and unions were not particularly sensitive to discrimination against women in the workplace. But they were aware of violations of women's rights, such as unallowed temporary work and dismissal during pregnancy.
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The different lengths of the working lives of women and men were originally intended to remunerate women for their double burden of full-time work and child-rearing, she said. Earlier retirement for women was not the reason for their lower pension rate, as 35 years of work for women counted towards the same pension rate as 40 years for men. Women had full access to their husband's pension and vice versa. Maternity and parental leave was paid at 100 per cent of salary, was recognized as work time and did not affect pensions. New amendments to legislation envisaged equalization of working periods and retirement ages for men and women. Stereotypes in family and child responsibility created a significant barrier to equal opportunities, and the Government was aiming to make employers view men as fathers with a full range of family responsibilities. The Office of Women's Affairs had prepared a proposal for parental leave whose basic idea was 105 days for maternity leave to be used only by the mother; 90 days to be used only by a father; and 108 days of parental leave which could be shared by the mother and father.
VIOLETA NEUBAUER then addressed the area of women's health. She said that the transitional period had affected the national health insurance scheme and the health-care system. However, the changes had not cut the level of women or children's rights to highest standards of health care, and privatization had not reduced affordable health-care availability. She noted the feminization of the health-care profession in Slovenia, where 46.3 per cent were males and 53.7 per cent were females. The prevalence of women might be one reason why wages in the health industry were low. Dentists and doctors had gone on strike in April last year to demand higher wages and recognition of the special status and responsibilities of doctors. She also addressed the special concerns expressed by Committee members in relation to occupational health and equal standards in terms of reproductive hazards for women and men.
Ms. KOZMIK said that almost half of Slovenia's population lived in rural areas, and women owned 17.5 per cent of farms and were co-owners in 28.2 per cent. Women performed most of the housekeeping duties in farms and in a third of women were primarily responsible for child-rearing duties.
An expert questioned the consideration of the family as a private sphere. It was a response to the years of socialism which often intruded upon the prerogatives of the family. Conservative policies of the Western world stressing the "privacy of the family" should not be allowed to intrude upon equal opportunity. More concern should be shown for single-parent families, particularly when they were female-headed, to protect them from descending into poverty. She also acknowledged the legacy from the socialist era, its effects on equal opportunity for women and the dangers of the conservative trends. Education of the society and affirmative action thus became even more important to counteract and overcome sex stereotypes and traditional views.
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The Government needed to institutionalize heavy sanctions against employer discrimination in the workplace, said an expert. Women also should be encouraged, taught and assisted financially in the establishment of small businesses, which were a major future source of employment and income. Another expert expressed concern about the practice of feminizing temporary employment.
Another comment was made about the feminization of the health-care professions and subsequently the judiciary. How was the value of work in such a profession maintained in order to prevent the usual decline in wages? Had the feminization of the health-care profession affected the accessibility of health care? Another question was posed about the details of health insurance.
Discussion of Committee Working Methods
In a continuation of a morning discussion on the work of the pre-session working group, an expert observed that, with the new meeting format, the planning of country reports and the distribution of documents would have to be accelerated so that the experts could formulate advance questions and distribute them to a proposed post-session working group following the January session. The unexpected changes in schedule by the States parties themselves had presented another set of difficulties. Support by several Committee members was given to systematically ordering the questions presented by each expert for the country reports. The questions should be carefully organized to ensure that all areas were covered properly.
Another expert observed that too much time was wasted in reading out formal answers by the country delegation, instead of promoting a dialogue between the Committee and the delegation. She cited the example of the Slovenia response which had just been heard by the Committee.
The use of specialization in the questioning, according to an expert, was useful because of the size of the Committee. It should not impair the depth of the discussion; it was a way to use time more efficiently to avoid repetition and focus that discussion. Other experts questioned the value of such specialized questions. Another Committee member said the working group should fully debate the whole idea of specialized questions before the plenary arrived at any formulation of future working methods.
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