COMMITTEE EXPERTS QUESTION IMPACT OF PATRIARCHAL TRADITION ON SITUATION OF WOMEN IN UZBEKISTAN

25 January 2001
WOM/1256

COMMITTEE EXPERTS QUESTION IMPACT OF PATRIARCHAL TRADITION ON SITUATION OF WOMEN IN UZBEKISTAN

Committee on the Elimination of                       WOM/1256

 Discrimination against Women                         25 January 2001

500th and 501st Meetings (AM & PM)

COMMITTEE EXPERTS QUESTION IMPACT OF PATRIARCHAL TRADITION

ON SITUATION OF WOMEN IN UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan had highly accomplished and well-educated women, who, once liberated from discriminating patriarchal traditions, could be a true asset for future progress, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was told by one of its 23 experts today as it took up that country’s initial report.

The Committee, which monitors States parties’ compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, devoted two meetings to the situation of women in Uzbekistan today.  That country ratified the Convention in May 1995.  The Convention requires that State parties submit a progress report on implementation of the Convention within one year after its entry into force and at least every four years thereafter. 

Introducing the report was the head of the National Centre on Human Rights and Chairman of the Committee for Democratic Institutions, Non-Governmental Organizations and Citizens’ Self-Governance Bodies of the Parliament of Uzbekistan, Akmal Saidov.  He said that although the Government was still in the initial stages of implementing the Convention, important work had begun.  His Government intended to continue incorporating the Convention’s provisions in its gender-related policies and was considering the Optional Protocol to the Convention.

He added that the text of the Convention had been translated into the national language and was being distributed free of charge among the population.  Favourable conditions were being created for women in self-government bodies; women’s level of education was exceptionally high; and conditions had been created for eliminating discrimination against women in the working place.

The Chairperson of the Committee, Charlotte Abaka of Ghana, said it was clear that the Government of Uzbekistan wanted to build a democratic culture built on respect for human rights.  However, national legislation had not been brought fully in line with international law, and she hoped that the issue would be resolved in the future.

In the article-by-article discussion of the country’s implementation of the Convention questions were raised related to the national machinery and plans for achieving gender equality, the situation of rural women, the trafficking of women, domestic violence and the impact of privatization.

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 1a -          Press Release WOM/1256

500th and 501st Meetings (AM & PM)                      25 January 2001

Experts agreed that it was important to increase human rights education, which could be accomplished through mass media and textbooks.  Educational institutions should also promote positive roles for women. 

Several experts expressed concern that women’s motherhood role was taking precedence over their professional and individual development.  Such phenomena as dowry, polygamy, early marriages and high rates of suicide among women also needed to be addressed.  Means to alleviate women’s working conditions and to achieve equal wages were also discussed.

The delegation of Uzbekistan will respond to questions raised in today’s discussion on Tuesday, 30 January at 3 p.m.

The Committee will continue its work at 10.30 a.m. tomorrow, 26 January, when it is scheduled to begin its consideration of Jamaica’s reports.

Committee Work Programme

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to begin its consideration of the initial report of Uzbekistan presented in compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (document CEDAW/C/UZB/1).  Uzbekistan, which gained independence in 1991, ratified the Convention in 1995.

The report provides a detailed description of the socio-economic situation in the country, stressing that its Constitution guarantees equality of all citizens under the law, their equal rights and freedoms.  The legal system of the country is undergoing rapid development, with more than 300 laws and subordinate normative acts having been elaborated in recent years. 

Addressing various articles of the Convention, the report describes Uzbekistan's national legislation and programmes for the protection and advancement of women.  Under Uzbekistan's criminal law, the death penalty cannot be imposed on women and persons under the age of 18.  Under labour legislation, women enjoy equal employment rights, and no restrictions are permitted on the basis of gender.  Additional guarantees are provided for pregnant women and women with children. 

Regarding education, the report states that the number of women with higher and specialized secondary education reaches over 50 per cent.  Conditions have been established for the continuous vocational training and professional development of women.  However, since independence the number of students attending universities has fallen significantly.  There has been a decline in the total number of women students and in 1997 they comprised 39.4 per cent of the total. 

According to the report, this results primarily from the fact that in Uzbekistan, women get married and have children at an early age.  Due to their dependent position in the family, the decision about their study is often taken by close relatives.  Changing the stereotypes and helping women adapt to the changing economy are among the primary aims of State education policy. 

As for working conditions, the report says that the number of working women constitutes 42.5 per cent of those currently employed.  Legal and social guarantees governing the implementation of equal rights to secure jobs are set out in the Employment Act of Uzbekistan.  However, women's wages lag behind those of men (for example, in 1997 they were 20 per cent lower).  The report explains this difference by women's lower level of skills and labour productivity.  Also, in families with a large number of children women shoulder an increased burden of childcare and housekeeping.  Women generally work in those branches of industry where working conditions and pay are worse, which creates inequality between men and women despite equal rights under the law.

Several national organizations are defending the rights of women.  In particular, the Women's Committee of Uzbekistan is ensuring women's equal representation in power structures and decision-making at all levels, providing equal access to training and protecting the rights of mothers and children.  It is also strengthening links with international women's organizations and similar organizations in other countries.

The report further states that the Government of Uzbekistan proclaimed a "Year of Family Interests" in 1998, spending significant amounts of money on implementing a relevant programme.  In order to further improve the situation of women and enhance their role in society, 1999 was designated the "Year of Women".  A State programme of action for 1999 was targeted at:  perfecting the legal framework for the protection of women; developing a system for monitoring compliance with national and international instruments; promoting women's and children's health; and raising the level of education.  Efforts are also being made to broaden scientific and social research of gender issues.  Also in

1999, a National Platform of Action to Improve the Situation of Women was ratified.

Integrated measures are being taken to prevent violence against women, the report says.  As for trafficking in women, exploitation and prostitution, the document notes a sharp rise in the number of such offences.  Legislative measures have been adopted to overcome this problem, and special units have been established to combat prostitution and distribution of pornographic products and films promoting the cult of violence. 

According to the report, following the suspension in the 1980s of the quota system for women, their representation at all levels of authority has declined, and the proportion of women in leadership positions is extremely low.  Political parties in Uzbekistan are headed solely by men.  Of the five registered political parties and movements, only the National Democratic Party has a significant number of women -- about 40 per cent of its members.  The rest of the parties have between 3 and 7 per cent.  Recent steps to address this situation include the 1995 Presidential Decree, re-establishing a quota for increasing the number of women in executive bodies at all levels.  The State programme of 1999 also provides for the drafting of a quota system, in order to increase the number of women in leadership posts.

Regarding women's health, the report says that since 1991 the Ministry of Health has been implementing a regional programme of urgent measures to improve the health of women of childbearing age.  The programme includes efforts to prevent unwanted pregnancies and abortions and extend the inter-pregnancy interval to 3 to 4 years.  However, due to the problems of the transitional period, there has been a sharp decline in the budgetary resources allocated to State health services, and private health care has been unable to compensate for those cuts.  This has resulted in the rise of overall morbidity of the population.

The Government of the country is giving most serious consideration to the task of raising healthy generations of people.  An integrated programme to address this task involves eight ministries and more than 10 departments, as well as foundations, public associations and local authorities.  The programme also receives support from international organizations and donor countries.

Introduction of Report

Introducing his country’s initial report, AKMAL SAIDOV, Head of the National Centre on Human Rights and Chairman of the Committee for Democratic Institutions, Non-Governmental Organizations and Citizens’ Self-Governance Bodies of the Parliament of Uzbekistan, said that his Government was working to improve the status of women in Uzbek society.  Having ratified several international instruments on the rights of women, it was studying their provisions to better implement them.  The Government was also engaged in an active dialogue with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which had taken an active part in preparing the report before the Committee.

He went on to provide detailed information regarding the geographical situation and history of his country, adding that the country was building a new society based on the rule of law.  The Uzbek Constitution proclaimed equality of men and women, and all ethnic groups had equal opportunities to develop their cultures.  Uzbekistan was a country of great religious and national tolerance.  It was also a State of great intellectual and economic potential.  

Turning to recent measures taken to implement the Convention, he said that legal and actual equality was being ensured by the country’s legal system.  The Convention’s provisions were being incorporated in national laws.  The term “discrimination” was broadly used in legal practice.  The Government was also considering the Optional Protocol to the Convention.

The Committee on Social Issues and Employment and a Special Committee on Women’s Affairs were responsible for promoting gender equality in the country, he continued.  A national mechanism for the advancement of women had been developed to protect their rights, and the post of Deputy Minister for the Protection of Family, Maternity and Childhood had been instituted.  National institutions for monitoring the implementation of the Convention were in place, including the ombudsman for human rights.  The national platform of action for the enhancement of the role of women had also been developed.  A monitoring study of the promotion of the women’s rights had been conducted in 1999-2000 to reveal the real situation in the country and to prepare related recommendations.

An important step in the development of the women’s movement in Uzbekistan was creation of about 100 women’s NGOs, he said.  They provided social and professional assistance to women, promoted their participation in the power structures, ensured equal access to education and carried out family- and health-related projects. 

Efforts were being made to distribute information on women’s freedoms and rights, he continued.  The Convention’s text on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women had been translated into the national language and was being distributed free of charge among the population.  National and international meetings and conferences were regularly held in the country.  All Government departments were supposed to reserve positions for women.  Favourable conditions were being created for women who wanted to take part in self-government bodies.

Certain stereotypes existed in Uzbekistan regarding women, and seminars had been held to address that situation, including those on “Women in Business”, “Women and Law” and “Women’s Health”. A number of crisis centers had been created in the country, he added.  A Bureau on Gender Equality had been established in 1997.

Conditions had been created for eliminating discrimination against women in the workplace, and their equal opportunities had been enshrined in the country’s Constitution.  Additional guarantees for fulfilling women’s family responsibilities included child-bearing leave and special working conditions for pregnant and nursing mothers.  Changes in labour laws included an increase in the child-rearing leave to 3 years. 

Most working women were employed in agricultural, health, social and trade sectors, he continued.  Over 50 per cent of teachers were women.  Important steps were being taken to provide training and re-training for women to allow them to adapt to the market economy.  In 2000 women constituted 70 per cent of those employed in non-State sectors of the economy.  The Government made serious efforts to develop women’s employment, and as a result, women accounted for

42 per cent of the country’s labour force.  The number of women-led enterprises had significantly expanded in the recent years, and many medium- and small-size ventures were headed by women. 

Regarding women’s health, he said that raising a healthy new generation was a Government priority.  Several thematic years had been proclaimed in Uzbekistan in the 1990s, including the Year of the Woman and the Year of Mother and Child.  However, in the transition to a market economy, financing of the health sector had decreased, as had the preventive potential of national health institutions.  Birth rates were traditionally high in Uzbekistan, and several programmes were directed at promoting women’s reproductive health and reducing maternal and infant mortality.

He concluded that Uzbekistan was still in the initial stages of implementating the Convention, but work had been initiated.  His Government intended to continue incorporating the provisions of the Convention in its gender-related policies.

Comments by Experts

The Chairperson, CHARLOTTE ABAKA of Ghana, said the report was frank and exhaustive.  The data was disaggregated by sex, which was rare in country reports.  The oral presentation was also excellent and had enlightened the Committee on the situation in Uzbekistan.  Even though the country was still in a transition period, it had ratified the Convention without reservation, which was a sign of the Government’s strong political will.  She noted that the report was five years late and hoped that the next periodic report would not be delayed.

She said it was clear that the Government of Uzbekistan wanted to build a democratic culture built on respect for human rights.  All of this not withstanding, international law had not been brought in line with the national legislation of the country.  She hoped that this issue would be resolved in the future.

An expert said that she had appreciated the historical background included in the oral presentation, which helped experts understand the present situation much better.  Considering that Uzbekistan was a multi-ethnic society, she wondered about the rights of the various nationalities.

Another expert asked about the establishment of the Ombudsman’s Office. Did it assist with the implementation of ratified international conventions, such as the CEDAW Convention?  What was the mandate and the power of this Office?  She realized that it received complaints by women when their rights had been violated and wondered how many complaints had been received regarding gender discrimination.  The symbolism and potential of this institution were clear, but more information was needed to assess its work.

The Government of Uzbekistan was clearly intent on eliminating discrimination against women, an expert noted.  The full implementation of the Convention was critical, and as in most countries, there was a need to balance progressive and traditional roles.  It was important that Uzbekistan legislation be brought into line with the basic tenants of the Convention, because only then would there be legal protection for women.

An expert said it was not clear what the legal position of the Convention was within Uzbekistan’s national legislation.  Even though the report indicated the primacy of international law within Uzbekistan’s national legislation, there was not a clear definition of discrimination in that legislation.  This needed to be addressed.

According to the report, the Women’s Committee of Uzbekistan was meant to help the Government of Uzbekistan with the promotion of equality, an expert said.  She noted that the policy of this Committee was going into two directions:  family policy and the promotion of women’s rights.  This dual focus was evident in the mandates of other women’s organizations that were mentioned in the report.  It seemed that a women and her rights were not separate from biology.  Women were bound to a maternal role.

She added that the Convention was unique in international law, as it recognized the maternal role of women and asked the family and State to ensure the enjoyment of maternity.  It also recognized the individual rights of women. The Convention’s understanding of women as individuals needed to be raised in society.

Uzbekistan had highly accomplished women and had an impressive record of women in the labour force, an expert said.  All of these factors were advantages.  The Government of Uzbekistan had a commitment to guiding the country into democracy.  Women were a great resource for this process and, once liberated from patriarchal traditions, could be a true asset for progress.

Other experts asked for details on the situation of rural women, the trafficking of women, domestic violence and the impact of privatization.  Experts agreed that there was a need to increase human rights education.  This could be accomplished either through the mass media or in textbooks.

“What was the reason for the drop out rate among women at high levels of employment?” an expert asked.  Perhaps this coincided with the high birth rates, which had a negative impact on women’s production skills.  These statistics all seemed in contradiction with the creation of so many institutions that were working to create gender equality.

An expert said she had the impression from the report that no discriminatory legislation existed, but had a thorough assessment been undertaken?  Was the definition of discrimination actually explained in the family or labour code?  She wondered if there were preparations to write an equal opportunities act, which could include a provision for temporary special measures.  She realized that international conventions took precedence when they conflicted with national legislation, but wondered if this was clear within the country.  An equality act could help in this regard.

The report stated that the people were the sole source of State authority, an expert said.  If this was truly the case, then it was difficult to understand why cases on the violation of constitutional rights could be brought before the Constitutional Court only by representatives of the legislature and not by individuals.  She asked for details.

An expert commended the delegation on the machinery in place to achieve women’s advancement.  There was talk of a Women’s Committee and its goals were very important.  Was this a NGO or an arm of the Government?  She also asked questions related the financing of the Committee, its staffing and its primary concern.  Also, what role did the Women’s National Council play and how were the two bodies related?

An expert expressed concern about the way women were understood as citizens and the concept of equality between men and women within Uzbekistan. The definition of discrimination had not been clearly indicated in the Constitution, and she was concerned that women were viewed only as members of the family.  She urged the Government to look at women as the equal partner of men.  As equal partners, women did have specific needs.  Assisting women with these needs was the responsibility of the Government. 

An expert asked why the burden of bringing up children was being attributed just to women.  Another speaker said that the programmes undertaken during the years proclaimed to be national years of family and motherhood looked rather vague.  There was also a question regarding the relationship between State and non-State mechanisms for the promotion of women.

The requirements for proving an act of rape and the issue of marital rape also needed to be clarified, an expert said.  Had there been cases when domestic violence was prosecuted, or was that phenomenon considered to be a private matter in the country?  In divorce, could a mandatory “reconciliation” period of six months be used against women, forcing them to tolerate continued abuse? 

Suicide was described as a crime in the country’s Penal Code, and an expert wanted to receive additional information about the incidence of suicide in the country.  She also asked if gender education included courses on violence against women.

Questions were also asked about the national machinery for ensuring gender equality and relationships between various institutions for the promotion of women and human rights. 

It was very important to overcome existing stereotypes, an expert said, and a large number of seminars had been conducted in the country towards that end.  The traditional values seemed to be very discriminatory.  They included stereotypes picturing women as mothers and wives, which came up throughout the report.  For example, the report described women’s wages as a complement to the family income.  Nowhere was there any mention of the need to explain the woman’s role as a professional who needed to develop in the workplace. 

An expert said that the majority of the unemployed were women, which seemed to illustrate significant backsliding as far as women were concerned.  Such phenomena as dowry, polygamy and early marriages also needed to be addressed.  It was paradoxical that most of those working in the media were women, yet the media was perpetuating the traditional attitudes.  For the changes to take effect, it was necessary to raise the consciousness of the population.  The Government was making commendable efforts in that respect and had also provided the Committee with important insights regarding the programmes it intended to implement.

Afternoon Discussion

On the subject of stereotypes, one expert asked about the impact of the traditional patriarchy on the division of work in the family and a woman’s motivation to succeed.  Were there any legal measures being taken by the Government to cope with these patriarchal pressures?  She also asked what the punishment was for polygamy, which was prohibited in the criminal code.

One expert focused on violence against women in Uzbekistan.  Making a man pay a fine as punishment for coercive marriage was problematic.  If the State punished a man with a fine, it put more of a burden on the family’s finances rather than on the man.  She did not think this was appropriate for such a crime.  Regarding sexual coercion, she asked for statistics on how many cases had been filed.  How were the victims of violence cared for legally, psychologically and financially?  Were any shelters provided?

Regarding the involvement of women in political and public life, the report had mentioned the 1995 presidential decree on measures to enhance the participation of women in executive bodies.  It seemed, however, that this only applied to the Department of Social Affairs, an expert said.  Was this really the case?  Other experts wondered why women could only deal with that function of the Government. 

The report lacked data on the participation of women in politics at local levels, an expert noted.  Mention was made of a programme to increase participation at the national level, but this should be done at the grassroots level as well.  Were there any measures being designed to increase the public role of women at local levels?  She noted that discrimination against women was not always taken account of in public life. 

Another expert wondered why, according to the report, women took only deputy positions at the administrative level.  Did this mean that only men could take the director post?  There was a need to establish an overall plan of temporary special measures to move women into decision-making positions in all aspects of public life.  This could be useful for labour unions as well.

Civil society could play a critical role in ensuring an active citizenship, an expert said.  Was there a law that regulated the financing of such NGOs and, if not, was there any move to put such money into the budget?  She also wanted to know if there was any information on the number of women in the diplomatic corps.

Many experts noted the high literacy rates of women but expressed concern at the decline of women’s participation in higher education.  The reason given in the report was that the age of girls entering higher education coincided with the age that many of them got married.  Experts hoped that the negative trend of women’s participation in higher education did not continue.

The State employment policies were very good, one expert noted, and they were in accordance with the Convention’s provisions.  She was surprised at the statistics indicating such a high percentage of women in many sectors of the labour market, and asked for information on the average wage of women and men in those sectors.  The report also did not indicate the level of Uzbekistan’s minimum wage.  The right to work was one of the fundamental human rights and needed to be ensured for all women and men.

Another expert asked if studies had been undertaken on the effect that difficult working conditions had on the health of women.  Did the Government think that this kind of evaluation was important?  She also asked for more details on maternity leave and whether this was available for men.

What was being done to combat stereotypical attitudes regarding women’s abilities in the employment sector? an expert asked.  The report said that women could not do certain jobs because they lacked the strength.  What sort of jobs could women not do that required physical strength?  She sensed that there may be some stereotypical thinking on this topic.  Also, there were statistics that indicated over 60 per cent of women thought that their wages were too low.  This was alarming and needed to be addressed so that women had at least enough money to feed their families.

An expert acknowledged the efforts of the Government to keep women in the labour market, especial in a time of economic transition.  She asked why most of the measures undertaken were applied to women only and why they were referred to as privileges.

The report included figures for women who had committed suicide, an expert said, and unfortunately, these figured had increased in recent years.  There was no information provided on the category of women who had committed suicide. Measures needed to be put in place to help women with mental disorders.

The expert added that the report also indicated that there had been an increase in cardiovascular disease, but there were no details.  She wondered if the lifestyle of the Uzbek people had changed as a result of globalization and whether this had given rise to an increase in poor health.

An expert said that 60 per cent of the 12 million Uzbek women lived in rural areas.  She wanted to know about their living conditions and programmes to address their problems.  Experts also asked what training programmes were available to them and what percentage of rural women received higher education.  Were there any cultural or traditional norms that prevented rural women from participating in the lives of their communities?  What was the male attitude towards the Government’s measures to advance rural women?

Regarding family relations, an expert asked if an increase in the return to the practice of polygamy and early marriage was being witnessed in the country.  She also wanted to know about conditions for dividing family property upon divorce.  She emphasized the need to prevent domestic violence and family rape and requested additional information on the legal provisions governing those aspects of violence against women. 

Mr. SAIDOV thanked the Committee for the interesting questions raised.  His delegation would respond to the questions on 30 January.

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For information media. Not an official record.