COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONCLUDES CONSIDERATION OF LIECHTENSTEIN REPORT
COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONCLUDES CONSIDERATION OF LIECHTENSTEIN REPORT
COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONCLUDES CONSIDERATION OF LIECHTENSTEIN REPORT19990127 Anti-Discrimination Convention Provisions Called Essential Component for Creating Awareness of Women's Role in Modern Liechtenstein
Making the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women relevant in daily life was an essential component in creating awareness among the people of Liechtenstein of the crucial role of women in modern society, the Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein to the United Nations, Claudia Fritsche, told the 23-expert body that monitors compliance with the Convention.
Addressing the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this afternoon at the conclusion of its consideration of Liechtenstein's initial report, Ms. Fritsche said that the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action was a crucial element of Liechtenstein's policies on the status of women. Given the Platform's comprehensive nature and the need to streamline women's issues, all Government Ministries were involved in that process of implementation, which would be reviewed annually in light of emerging trends and developments.
Replying to several questions concerning the low participation of young women in university programmes, she said that was a reflection of the country's traditional thinking and social and cultural patterns of conduct. While it was true there were no universities in Liechtenstein, some of the "overseas" universities were only one hour away. Measures to promote attendance by women would focus on aspects relating to the their overall advancement.
The critical issue of violence against women had been identified as a priority concern, and had raised many complex questions, including the role of the State in the area of domestic violence, she said. The work done by the United Nations in that area had been of vital importance to many countries, including her own. Specific legislative changes such as the introduction of marital rape as a statutory offense and of sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as the proposed Protection against Violence Act augured well for
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suppressing future violent crimes. The upcoming review of the Penal Code would bring about further important changes relating to that problem.
Expert members noted that while Liechtenstein had started very late in focusing on women's rights, it had accomplished much in recent years. In particular, it had put in place many international agreements, including the Women's Convention and the Beijing Platform for Action. The country had come far in addressing the de jure situation of equality between men and women; the difficulty now was to improve de facto equality -- a long and sometimes disappointing process.
Meanwhile, another expert said Liechtenstein had proven that even a small country could make great progress, and would likely join the rest of Europe in a few years. Another, however, expressed disappointment that the country had lagged so far behind. It was inexplicable how a nation in the heart of Europe could encounter the same difficulties as under-developed countries, such as her own South American State.
Ms. Fritsche expressed her appreciation for the true learning experience of the past three days, and assured members that her delegation had certainly tried to be exhaustive in its replies; indeed, "that had also made us a little bit exhausted". She thanked the experts for their additional comments and questions, and pledged to do her best to provide more in-depth replies on both implementation of the Convention and experiences on the ground at the next meeting in four years.
The Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the United Nations, Christian Wenaweser, added that his delegation had tried to answer all the experts' questions in an open, constructive and sincere manner.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 28 January, to consider the second and third period reports of Greece.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this afternoon to continue its consideration of the initial report of Liechtenstein on its implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The delegation of Liechtenstein was scheduled to respond to questions posed by the Committee following the presentation of that country's report on 25 January. (For further background, see Press Releases WOM/1083 and WOM/1084 of 25 January.)
CLAUDIA FRITSCHE, Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein to the United Nations, responding to experts' previously stated interest in the work of Liechtenstein's Commission on Equality between Men and Women, said that the Commission's members, with the exception of the Chairperson, had resigned in 1992. The main reason had been that the then Government had not implemented a recommendation by the Commission to establish an Equality Bureau. Since the Chairperson had not resigned, the Commission had never been formally dissolved and had been officially reconstituted in 1994. The Commission assisted the Government as a whole and was not under the authority of a specific ministry. Its mandate would be formalized in the new Equality Rights Act. On the other hand, the Equality Bureau, established in 1996, was directly linked with the Ministry for Family Affairs and Equality between Men and Women.
Responding to questions concerning the Ombudsman, she said that the position of the Ombudsman was more or less identical with that of a public defender. The Ombudsman received complaints and suggestions concerning the work of the national administration, provided advice on legal issues and transmitted those complaints and suggestions to the relevant ministry for consideration.
Turning to the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, she said that implementation of the Platform was a process, which would be reviewed on an annual basis in light of recent developments and emerging trends. The outcome of the Conference was, in the long term, a crucial element of Liechtenstein's policies regarding women's issues. Given the comprehensive nature of the Platform and the necessity of streamlining women's issues, all ministries were involved in its implementation, while the coordination and monitoring lay with the Ministry for Family Affairs and Equality between Men and Women. With regard to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the wide dissemination of the text of the Convention was a very important element in creating awareness among both women and men and making the provisions of the Convention relevant in daily life.
Addressing concern about single motherhood in Liechtenstein, she said that a clear distinction had to be made between the areas "children born out
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of wedlock" and "single motherhood". The Government paid particular attention to the situation of single mothers, with the provision of child allowances, which were given for every child, regardless of family status. Another provision was alimony paid by the father, based on a relevant court decision (current practice) or a consensual agreement between man and woman (future practice, which would offer that alternative to the current practice). The income of the father was the basis for assessing the amount of alimony. Among other provisions were additional child allowances for single parents.
Child care facilities, currently available, satisfied the demands and needs of the population, she continued. Regarding shared custody, a proposal was being discussed that mediators help divorced couples settle details of shared custody. It was stipulated by law that the best interest of the child had to be given highest priority.
All foreigners living in Liechtenstein, temporarily or permanently, were granted all rights guaranteed to them under the relevant international treaties, particularly in the area of human rights, as well as under the relevant provisions of national legislation. Citizens of States parties to the treaty on the European Economic Area were treated the same as Liechtenstein nationals, except in the area of political rights.
Turning to article 1, she said Liechtenstein's current legislation did not contain a definition of discrimination against women; however, article 1 of the Equal Rights Act would contain a definition of discrimination against women in the workplace. Liechtenstein applied the monistic system with regard to international treaties; thus, the definition contained in the Convention was directly applicable in the country's legal system.
Regarding articles 2 and 3, she said that the Information and Contact Network for Women brochure "living together without a marriage certificate" offered clarification on important legal aspects, since many of the rights granted to married women were not granted to women who shared a household without a marriage certificate. The brochure recommended the conclusion of a written agreement, which was particularly important for women who carried out unremunerated work in such relationships.
She said that the question of whether or not positive measures were an appropriate means for advancing women's rights, and in which areas, was the subject of a political debate in Liechtenstein. The Government promoted, for example, giving preference to female candidates for jobs within the administration in cases where candidatures by persons from both sexes who were equally qualified had been submitted, and if women were under-represented in the respective department. Under article 16 of the Equal Rights Act, the Government was given the legal basis to provide financial support to the companies to help them to promote the advancement of women. Those resources would be earmarked for positive measures in the field of gender equality.
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The issue of violence against women, one of the critical areas of concern of the Beijing Platform for Action, had been identified as a priority of the national implementation of the Platform, she said. The issue raised many complex questions, and a political debate involving both men and women was needed to address the problem effectively. The role and responsibility of the State in the area of domestic violence were legally complicated issues, and the work done by the United Nations had been of crucial importance for many countries, including her own. The review of Liechtenstein's Penal Code would bring about important changes with regard to violence against women.
She said the introduction of marital rape as a statutory offense and of sexual harassment in the workplace as well as the proposed Protection against Violence Act were specific legislative changes. Legislative and other measures in that regard had therefore been included in the national plan of action. Prostitution, if practised in a manner which caused justified public offense, was a criminal offense under existing penal law, punishable with a term of imprisonment of up to two years.
On article 7, on political and public life, she said that no gender- disaggregated data was available on the participation of women in elections. Participation in votes and referendums, however, was compulsory. In addition, voter turnout had been invariably high at the 1997 Landtag elections. To the question about the Government's reaction to the poor performance of female candidates in the latest elections, the report described that an analysis had been undertaken by the Government, from which a set of measures had been elaborated and published in a brochure last September. Since the question of party preferences among older and younger women had not been included in the questionnaire, no data was available on the so-called "generation gap" among women in political orientation. Female candidates had received the strongest approval from persons 35 to 49 years old.
Concerning a question on succession to the throne, she said that was determined by the laws of the Princely House, which the Princely Family had established for itself.
Civil education courses, she said, had been offered by a number of non- governmental organizations. For its part, the Government had offered education programmes on civic issues to all employees of the national administration. Since the country's political parties did not produce formal lists of members, no information had been available on the number of female members of political parties. The Freie Liste, one of the three political parties represented in the Landtag, had applied a quota system, she replied to a related question.
With regard to access to education, the subject of article 10, she said that many experts had expressed the view that the absence of a university or insufficient financial support from the Government, might be preventing girls
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from enroling in university programmes. As stated in the report, access to universities in neighbouring countries and the European Economic Area- countries was guaranteed to Liechtenstein nationals by virtue of treaties. A large number of the universities in question were located in adjacent areas, some of them hardly more than one hour away from Liechtenstein. Moreover, the financial support granted to students had enabled them to enrol in university programmes.
The relatively low participation of girls in university programmes more likely reflected the country's "social and cultural patterns of conduct" and "traditional thinking", she went on. Measures to remedy the current situation would focus on aspects relating to the overall advancement of women in Liechtenstein. Regarding access of foreign children to education, all children living in her country were required to attend nine years of primary school, which was free of charge. Primary school, as well as secondary education, was open to everyone, and the State absorbed the costs. No distinction was made in that regard between Liechtenstein nationals and foreigners. Additional classes were offered to children who were not native German speakers. Moreover, no gender distinction had been made with regard to financial support for education.
Turning to article 11, which covered employment, she replied to several questions concerning flexible working hours. An ordinance due to enter into force in April would provide differing models of working hours for both men and women, such as part-time work, job-sharing, annual work time or flexible daily working hours. Those models should serve as a basis for providing women and men with better opportunities to share responsibilities for family and work.
On the subject of part-time work, she said that no legal provisions prohibited men or women from working part-time, although a company might not offer that option. Moreover, part-time workers were entitled to unemployment and health insurance. They also had access to a pension fund. As a result of the revised labour act in 1997, all provisions concerning special protection for female employees had been abolished, with the sole exception of special regulations for pregnant and nursing women. The prohibition of night work for women did not just apply in cases of motherhood; if a woman did night work before her pregnancy, she had to be offered comparable work during the day or be paid at 80 per cent of her previous income.
Regarding measures to promote women in senior positions, she said that several women in the national administration held senior positions and were employed on a part-time basis. The "Guidelines for Improving the Representation and Occupational Status of Women in the Public Service" were also meant to set an example for companies in designing their own relevant policies, and thus aimed to have a far-reaching positive effect on the situation of women.
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In general, the Equal Rights Act had provided women with an opportunity to exercise their rights under the law, she said. The burden of proof was alleviated to the extent that the woman concerned only had to present a credible claim of discrimination. The employer then had to prove that the alleged discrimination had not taken place. Class action suits were possible under the Equal Rights Act, and protection was also granted in cases of retaliatory dismissals. Legal protection derived from that law applied to cases where an imminent discrimination needed to be prevented, or existing discrimination was to be eliminated. The Act also provided for compensation, paid by the employers, for discrimination committed by them.
Continuing, she said that discussions on the concept of "work of comparable value" were currently taking place. In addition, her country had followed relevant developments in other countries with great attention. Of particular importance were the policies of the European Union. The policies of its two neighbouring countries had also played a significant role. The current tax system did not offer any advantages to households in which one parent was a homemaker. More generally, the joint tax-billing of spouses, sometimes viewed critically in the context of women's rights, had certain advantages for women in difficult situations, such as separation and divorce.
She said that every person was entitled to receive a pension. The new pension system, introduced in January 1997, had sought to abolish all existing forms of unequal treatment, in particular with regard to gender discrimination. The reform of the pension system had achieved that goal, without introducing new inequalities. The so-called "splitting" of the "pension expectancy" for married persons was the important aspect of the new system. During the years of marriage, all factors considered in calculating a pension were equally split between the two spouses. The system had thus offered the necessary protection to persons not gainfully employed for an extended period of time.
The pension of a widowed person was calculated on the hypothetical pension to which the deceased person had been entitled, she said. The Separation and Divorce Law, which would enter into force in April, would introduce a 50/50 division of assets accumulated during a marriage, including the pension fund.
Turning to article 12, on women and health, she said that access to family planning was guaranteed as part of the public health system. The Centre for Maternity offered expert and personal counselling in cases of undesired pregnancy. It also provided financial support to the mother during and after pregnancy. Measures related to family planning efforts were partly covered by health insurance. Counselling and expert assistance were covered by health insurance, while the cost of contraceptives was generally not. Abortion was legal in Liechtenstein when the pregnant woman's life was in danger, or if she was under the age of 14. The costs incurred for such
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abortions were covered by health care. The provisions relating to abortion were currently under review in the process of the revision of the Penal Code. No illegal abortions (or abortions leading to the death of the woman concerned) in Liechtenstein had been reported during the past few years.
Public information campaigns on HIV/AIDS were carried out by a special advice centre, which received financial support from the Government, she continued. They were carried out on a broad basis and addressed both sexes and persons belonging to all age-groups. The campaigns encouraged the use of condoms and had contributed to the general awareness of the availability and the use of contraceptives, especially of condoms.
She added that drug consumption in Liechtenstein was punishable under the legislation in force. However, the penal law had not proved to be a suitable tool for bringing about the desired behaviour, namely a health conscious way of life among young people. A campaign for the prevention of substance abuse, aimed at creating awareness among the population as a whole, had been carried out in 1998. Particular emphasis had been given to self- responsibility of the individual and to the need to focus on prevention rather than punishment. The campaign had been successful in establishing a linkage between the issues of education and addiction.
Turning to article 13, she said that additional child allowances for single parents were paid per child, regardless of whether or not alimonies were paid. The amount of child allowances per month varied and was assessed according to the age of the child.
Concerning the situation of rural women, she said that given the size, both of the country's territory and its population, there were neither "cities" nor "rural areas" in the proper sense of the word in Liechtenstein. The entire country was equally accessible by public transportation, and there were no differences with regard to schools, health care, recreational facilities and the social security system. More importantly, there was no wide gap between "rich" and "poor" parts of the country and no sharp division of wealth and income. Under the prevailing circumstances, no special measures in that respect were needed.
With regard to article 16, marriage and family, she said that under the new Separation and Divorce Law, the parent who had no custody over the child, man or woman, paid alimonies on a monthly basis. In assessing the amount of alimony, among the areas taken into account are: division of labour during the marriage; duration of the marriage; income and property of the two spouses; age and health of the two spouses; and pension assets and other funds accumulated through private or public insurance. All assets, funds and property accumulated throughout the marriage were divided between the spouses on an equal basis. Those provisions also applied in cases where a marriage was annulled.
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Comments by Experts
Experts noted that while Liechtenstein had started very late in focusing on women and their rights, it had accomplished much in recent years. In particular, they had put into place many international agreements, including the Women's Convention and the Beijing Platform for Action, needed for the promotion of women's rights. One expert hoped that the country would get the Equal Rights Act put in place, and perhaps consider that the Act cover not only work life but extend to all spheres of life, where discrimination existed between men and women.
The country had come far in addressing the de jure situation of equality between men and women, and the difficult part now was to improve the area of de facto equality, said another expert. That might be a very long process with disappointments along the way. The parental leave regulation would be helpful in changing the attitudes of men and women with regard to responsibilities of both sexes in taking care of children and the home, she suggested. Another expert suggested that, considering Liechtenstein's experience with women and politics, it use affirmative action and temporary measures even though they were controversial. Those measures would be a useful tool to help the Government do something about eliminating stereotypes and change cultural patterns.
Regarding girls and education, one expert wanted to know why fewer girls went to university. Liechtenstein would find that when girls started going to schools and universities, a rapid change in the society could be seen. The tendency for both girls and boys to choose very traditional areas of study would continue to lead to a segregated work environment. She asked what sort of attitudes and role models were being provided to children.
Concerning the responses given on the issue of single motherhood, one expert said that single motherhood did not differentiate as to whether or not a child had been born out of wedlock. The answers provided in that context had caused even more concern. There appeared to be a difference in treatment according to family status, which in itself was discriminatory and disappointing. No real answer had been provided as to why women were choosing to have children out of wedlock, and whether or not those women who did were solely responsible for financial support. She asked what specific mechanisms were in place for those women who had children out of wedlock, and also for clarification between the terms "children born out of wedlock" and "single motherhood".
Another expert said she was greatly disappointed, as she had asked the most questions and had received the fewest answers. Coming from an under- developed country in South America, she could not understand how a country in the heart of Europe had the same difficulties as some of the most under- developed countries.
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While one expert noted that she now had a better understanding of Liechtenstein's national machinery, she was also concerned about the fact that while the legal situation regarding inheritance was equal, in practice, men tended to inherit more than women. If that was indeed the case, then a clearly unequal situation existed.
Another expert drew attention to the unanswered question about succession to the throne. In particular, she asked if the Princely House had moved with the trends of times to ensure that it was moving away from its patriarchal trends and towards modernization.
Another expert said that the large number of questions posed by experts was an attempt to demonstrate the Committee's equal attention to both large and small countries. She thanked the Ambassador for having dignified the Convention by withdrawing Liechtenstein's only reservation. That, along with the country's political will, had proved that even a small country in the heart of Europe could make great progress and join the rest of Europe, in a few years.
AIDA GONZALEZ (Mexico), Committee Chairperson, reiterated that the multitude of questions asked by Committee members was due to their great interest in the report. Speaking as an expert, and not in her capacity as Chairperson, she said she endorsed some of the comments made by others about the report, particularly with regard to inheritance matters. She appreciated the information that the legislation had not in any way discriminated against women. Indeed, the relevant articles of the Civil Code had been drafted in a gender-neutral manner. Perhaps there should be some legislation that clearly flagged the equality of men and women in that regard.
On the subject of prostitution, the Ambassador had said that such activity was deemed criminal only if it was practised in a publicly offensive manner. It might be a good idea not to punish women who worked as prostitutes, as the new penal law would do, but rather, either to the same or lesser extent, punish those who were using prostitutes. She hoped that the Committee's final comments on the report would be disseminated throughout the Government at all levels and made available to the entire population.
CHRISTIAN WENAWESER, Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the United Nations, said he had tried to dissipate confusion concerning children born out of wedlock, but had not been successful in that effort. The distinction between "children born out of wedlock" and "single motherhood" meant simply that not every child born out of wedlock was raised by a single parent or single mother. Thus, the two issues were not identical. That was the distinction being made.
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In elaborating the system of support, he said it should be made clear that it did not matter whether the father was the spouse of the woman who was the mother of the child, or not. Either way, he was obligated to pay alimony, whether or not the couple was married. Thus, there was no discrimination based on the family status. Moreover, there was no legal or practical discrimination based on family status or on anything else. His delegation had tried to answer all the experts' questions in an open, constructive and sincere manner.
Mrs. FRITSCHE expressed her appreciation for the true learning experience of the past three days, and assured members that her delegation had certainly tried to be exhaustive in its replies; indeed, "that had also made us a little bit exhausted". She thanked the experts for their additional comments and questions, and pledged to do her best to provide more in-depth replies on both implementation of the Convention and experiences on the ground at the next meeting in four years.
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