GENDER EQUALITY ISSUE MUST BE CENTRAL TO POLICY-MAKING, SWEDEN TELLS WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE
GENDER EQUALITY ISSUE MUST BE CENTRAL TO POLICY-MAKING, SWEDEN TELLS WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
510th and 511th Meetings (AM & PM)
GENDER EQUALITY ISSUE MUST BE CENTRAL TO POLICY-MAKING,
SWEDEN TELLS WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE
Experts Begin Review of Report from Eight Countries
On Measures Taken to Comply with Provision of UN Convention
Gender mainstreaming was the most efficient tool in accomplishing gender equality, Sweden’s State Secretary for Gender Equality, Lise Bergh, told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today as, during two meetings, the Committee considered Sweden’s fourth and fifth periodic reports.
During its current three-week session, the Committee is to take up reports from eight countries on their compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The Convention stipulates that a State party should submit its initial report within one year after its entry into force, and subsequent reports -– at least every four years thereafter. Sweden’s third report was considered by the Committee during the forty-eighth session of the General Assembly. [The seven other nations whose reports are to be considered at the Committee’s current session are Andorra, Guinea, Singapore, Guyana, Netherlands, Nicaragua and Viet Nam.
Continuing her presentation, the Minister from Sweden said that all her Government’s ministers were responsible for ensuring gender equality within their respective policy areas. While previous efforts had mainly focused on special anti-discrimination measures, since 1994, gender equality was an integral part of all government activities. As such a strategy called for specific knowledge and mechanisms, Sweden was developing gender expertise within the ministries and producing statistics disaggregated by sex. It also provided training courses in gender equality and developed tools for gender analysis. Such an approach did not exclude special measures to promote gender equality, for through gender mainstreaming, the Government could more easily identify where they were most needed.
Although Sweden was often regarded as a society with a relatively high degree of equality between women and men, she said, considerable imbalance existed in some areas. The most extreme example of that was violence against women, which had become a priority for her Government.
Responding to Sweden’s oral presentation and periodic reports, several experts noted the widely acknowledged prevalence in Sweden of a generally supportive cultural atmosphere conducive to the achievement of gender equality. Others worried that the persistence of traditional stereotyping in a country like Sweden had dimmed hopes for the future of women worldwide.
Questions were specifically aimed at the persistence of unequal pay between men and women in the labour market, both in the public and private sectors. Also, women's high level of education had gone unmatched by an attainment of highly valued jobs.
In response to the remarks by some of the Committee’s 23 experts, Sweden’s representatives described the efforts to overcome inequality in the labour market.
Under the law, it was said, employers were obliged to report on measures to reduce the pay gap. Among the newer projects to that end was a study to investigate the current situation in the country. The Government was also trying to overcome traditional stereotypes in education and employment and involve men in the efforts to promote women’s issues.
Among other issues raised in the debate were teachers’ education; measures to encourage the promotion of women; “concealed” prostitution; women in diplomatic posts; Sweden’s role as the outgoing President of the European Union; sexual crimes; and the situation of minority women.
Also taking part in the discussion on behalf of the Swedish delegation were: Stefan Engstrom, Political Adviser to the State Secretary; Katarina Schmidt and Ulf Akesson of the Ministry of Industry; Hedvig Trost of the Ministry of Justice; Asa Ytterberg of the Ministry of Education; Bjorn Berselius of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Maisoun Jabali and Annika Mansnerus of the Ministry of Social Affairs; and Elisabeth Eklund of the Permanent Mission of Sweden.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the Committee adopted the report of its pre-session working group, containing lists of questions for the representatives of the countries reporting to the current session. The document was introduced by Ivanka Corti of Italy, Chairperson of the working group.
At 10 a.m. tomorrow, 6 July, the Committee is expected to begin its consideration of reports from the Netherlands.
This morning, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was expected to begin its consideration of the fourth and fifth periodic reports of Sweden, submitted in compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Sweden’s third report was considered by the Committee during the forty-eighth session of the General Assembly.
The fourth report (document CEDAW/C/SWE/4) covers developments up to
31 December 1995. According to this document, in 1994, the Parliament of Sweden adopted a bill on equality between women and men, entitled “Shared Power –- Shared Responsibility”. Equality between the genders continues to be treated as an important area of government policy. Since 1994, there has been an equal balance between the number of women and men in the Government. After the general elections in 1994, the number of women in Parliament increased from 33 to 40 per cent.
Women in Sweden have ample possibilities to combine parenthood with work, but in many ways they still encounter different conditions in the workplace, the report continues. The vertical and horizontal sex segregation in the labour market continues to be one of the major obstacles to equality, and the Government is trying to counteract this situation. Besides legislation, it is taking active measures to change attitudes and eliminate structures that contribute to sex segregation in the distribution of jobs. Focal points have been set up in 24 Swedish counties to promote equality at the local level. A special investigator has been charged with surveying the situation for women in the labour market in the 1990s, with special focus on employment. The Social Services Act was amended in 1994 to guarantee day care for children 1-12 years old.
According to the report, equality measures focus on the changing of attitudes and prejudices. The Equality Affairs Division continues to disseminate information and arrange conferences and seminars to address this issue. Both official bodies and private organizations take part in the forming of public opinion on the rights and obligations of men and women and other equality issues. High priority is given to efforts to eradicate violence against women. In the 1990s, the range of sanctions has been extended in relation to a number of violent and sexual crimes, providing better protection to vulnerable groups, particularly to women and children. In 1993, the Government appointed a Commission on Violence against Women. Although organized prostitution is very limited in Sweden, the question of sex trade is now being considered by the Government.
Regarding education, the report states that, according to the 1995 bill on equality within the education area and amendments to the School Act, “Children and young persons ... regardless of sex, geographic residence and economic status, shall have equal access to education in the public schools”. School employees are required to assume specific responsibilities in that respect. Equality within the universities and higher education institutions has been a legal requirement since 1992. The women’s health programme contains aspects of research, political development and policy work. Under the 1996 Abortion Act, women who have decided to go through with an abortion are offered counselling. The number of abortions carried out in Sweden continues to decrease.
According to the fifth report submitted by Sweden (document CEDAW/C/SWE/5), four policy areas have received special attention in Swedish equality policy since 1995: violence against women; equal pay for equal work; men and gender equality; and gender mainstreaming.
On the first of these issues, the report states that in 1998 Sweden’s Parliament adopted a bill dealing with domestic violence, prostitution and sexual harassment at work. Since January 1999, prostitution has been prohibited. Work is under way to improve ways and means of supporting women victims of violence. A national centre for battered women was set up in 1994, and there are 140 local women’s emergency shelters and 25 shelters for young women in the country. Support is being provided for organizations working on behalf of immigrant and disabled women. In 1998, the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman initiated a project aimed at promoting gender equality and preventing sexual harassment at schools.
Wages in Sweden are regulated by employee and employer organizations, the report says. The Swedish Government, however, is involved in creating a dialogue between the two sides. Central among the steps to eliminate unwarranted wage differentials had been the work of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman, developing wage statistics and a gender-neutral job evaluation system.
Also according to the report, Sweden attaches high priority to increasing the role of men in efforts to achieve equality, focusing on persuading more fathers to take parental leave, increasing the number of men working in schools and childcare and supporting men involved in efforts to counter violence against women.
Regarding gender mainstreaming, the document states that a gender perspective should permeate both political and administrative work at all levels and in all areas. All government ministers are required to take into account the goal of equality in their respective fields. The Minister for Gender Equality coordinates the work and is responsible for the follow-up and further development of the policy. At the end of 1997, the Government appointed a working group to speed up the development of methods for gender equality work. Since 1995, an expert on gender equality issues has been attached to each county administrative board. The Government also allocated 2 million kronor to the Swedish Association of Local Authorities for a project aimed at acquiring new knowledge, developing new methods and including a gender perspective in the work of local authorities.
Introduction of Reports
LISE BERGH, State Secretary for Gender Equality of Sweden, said that everybody shared a vision of a society in which women and men fully enjoyed equal rights and where each individual was treated with respect, regardless of age, gender, ethnic or cultural background, disability or sexual orientation. To realize such a society, a shift in strategies was needed to promote gender equality. Since 1994, her Government had stated that gender equality was to permeate all areas of policy-making. The strategy of gender mainstreaming was the most efficient tool in accomplishing gender equality. Today, all government ministers were responsible for ensuring gender equality within their respective policy areas. Acting as a coordinator, the Minister for Gender Equality Affairs supported them.
Previously, efforts had mainly focused on special measures aimed at eliminating gender discrimination, she continued. Now, gender equality was an integral part of all government activities. That did not happen by itself, however. It called for knowledge and mechanisms, and the mechanisms developed in Sweden included support of gender expertise within the ministries, statistics disaggregated by sex; training courses in gender equality; and provision of tools for gender analysis. Such strategy did not exclude specific measures to promote gender equality, for through gender mainstreaming the Government could more easily identify where they were most needed. The Government’s aim was for such measures to have a greater, long-term impact.
Sweden was often regarded as a society in which there was a relatively high degree of equality between women and men, she said. In some areas, however, there was a considerable imbalance. The most extreme example of such imbalance was violence against women, which had become a priority for her Government. As stated in the fifth report, to combat violence against women the country focused on improving transparency through statistics and knowledge through research. One of the main features of the Government’s 1998 bill for action against violence was to provide female victims with better treatment from the authorities. To that end, it was important to improve awareness of the problem and identify the most appropriate measures.
Earlier this year, the Government had submitted a bill to the Parliament with proposals on how to strengthen support to crime victims. One of the proposals entailed the possibility of legal representation in a court of law, free of charge. Increased attention was also given to men who committed acts of violence against women. At an international conference on the assessment of treatment methods of men convicted of violence, held in December last year, different treatment methods were presented and analysed. New legislation had been proposed on sexual crimes.
Turning to the trafficking in women and children, she said that in December 2000 the European Commission had proposed two framework decisions on trafficking in human beings and their sexual exploitation. A political agreement on the matter was reached during the Swedish presidency of the European Union -- inter alia, on common definitions and victim support. One issue that remained to be resolved was the question of penalties. Sweden had also signed the Convention on Transnational Organized Crime and the supplementary protocol to prevent and punish trafficking in persons, she added.
Exploitation of prostitutes had been a criminal offence in Sweden since
1 January 1999. Since then, the number of known female prostitutes appeared to have declined in the country’s three largest cities. The new legislation had also had an impact on the trafficking in women for sexual exploitation.
She went on to say that studies showed that migrant women faced a higher risk of being subjected to violence than other women. To avoid situations where assaulted immigrant women felt forced to remain in a relationship for fear of expulsion, certain amendments had been made to the Aliens Act last year. As a consequence, the examination process before granting a residence permit was now more stringent. Through interviews and investigations, it was decided, in particular, whether a residence permit should be granted on the basis of an arranged marriage.
In 1997, a new protection provision was introduced to the Aliens Act granting residence permits to individuals experiencing a well founded fear of persecution due to their gender or homosexuality. However, a recent survey showed that the new provision had been used in only a very limited number of cases since 1997. To better observe women’s need for protection, it was important to train personnel handling asylum investigations. Concerning immigrants, there had been a shift of policy in Sweden, from assimilation to integration, which should be based on the right of every individual to be treated with respect and acceptance on an equal footing. There was an ombudsman against ethnic discrimination, as well as an ombudsman against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.
Sweden had come a long way as far as female representation was concerned, she said, but the country still faced difficulties in that area. The efforts of the Government had produced results within the public sector, as opposed to the private sector where the percentage of women on boards of directors was only
5.2 per cent. To focus attention on such a situation, the Minister for Gender Equality Affairs and the Minister for Industry, Employment and Communications hosted an annual conference for representatives of trade and industry.
A crucial starting point in efforts towards equality was to provide women and men with equal access to education, she said, and the Government was trying to increase the share of female professors in universities and to promote a more even gender distribution in undergraduate programmes. In the labour market, actions were being taken to prevent gender segregation. As it was important to break traditional behaviour patterns early in life, the Government had appointed a committee to ensure that training programmes contributed to reduction in the gender imbalance in recruitment. An investigation was also being considered to reduce part-time unemployment. Eliminating the pay gap was a high priority. Established in 2000, the National Mediation Office was charged with providing public statistics and promoting an efficient wage formation process. A new provision in the Equality Act obliged employers, together with trade unions, to resolve discriminatory wage differences.
Within the framework of the follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women, Sweden, together with other European Union members, was developing indicators to permit benchmarking and evaluation of progress in the 12 critical areas of concern.
Comments and Questions of Experts
Several experts expressed appreciation for the high-level delegation of Sweden. The oral presentation had provided valuable updated information. Appreciation was also expressed for the very active role played by the Swedish delegation in preparation of the Optional Protocol, by which individual women who had exhausted national remedies could petition the Committee. Experts also praised the many positive laws that had been put in place since the preparation of its fourth and fifth reports.
The expert from Germany said she had been following the Swedish efforts for 25 years. It seemed that the high number of women in the Government and Parliament and public bodies had made a difference. It was also encouraging that the issue of violence against women was now playing such a dominant role. At the same time, the report had clearly shown that progress had been possible only because the Government had decided on a strict application of article 4.1 of the Convention on temporary measures to combat gender-based discrimination. Both reports had clearly shown that wherever that instrument had been applied, there was progress, and where it had not been applied, as, for example, in the private sector or trade unions, there had been no progress.
She said she was very concerned about the areas in which discrimination against women had persisted. Unless the results of studies and pilot projects were translated into national policies, there would be no lasting effect. It was generally disappointing that it had taken so very long to eliminate gender discrimination in the areas of education, wage disparity, and role stereotypes. What had been going wrong in those areas, and was a more strict analysis required? Why had various efforts towards training not been made mandatory? Was there a mandatory study component in teachers’ education, and were the efforts to train teachers being evaluated? Teachers were the key to the goals of the Convention. She was unhappy about the persistent lack of an overall mandatory national policy and only scattered projects. With respect to pay discrimination, what was the attitude of trade unions and what could the Government do to make them more active in that regard? She also asked about the approach to violence against women.
The expert from Turkey said that the existence of egalitarian laws in Sweden, the high participation rates of women in the labour force, and the prevalence of a generally supportive cultural atmosphere with ethical values conducive to gender equality were well known throughout the world. At the same time, however, traditional stereotyping persisted. After reading the reports, her hopes for the future of the world’s women had been unexpectedly dampened. Things were changing slowly, particularly in the economic sphere. Much distance remained to be travelled. There was a myth that gender equality could be achieved in a society like Sweden, but that myth of equality had been one of the greatest barriers to trying to reach the reality of gender equality.
She said that the clear and persistent presence of gender inequality in
the labour market, both in the public and private sectors, had highlighted a fundamental problem which the Government had readily acknowledged. It was unclear, however, to what extent that situation was due to direct discrimination or to the accumulated outcome of the gender-segregated economy. What specific policies were being implemented? What measures to eradicate the blatant pay discrimination remained unfulfilled? Women’s high level of education had not led to an appropriate valuing of the jobs held by women. Despite the excellent representation in Parliament and the Cabinet, very few women could be found in decision-making posts, in private or public enterprises. Was that a continuing trend? What measures had been taken to increase women’s participation? And what about the representation of women in the trade unions? Did women ambassadors have the same chance of being assigned to more politically salient posts? There was also a problem with the low percentage of women holding professorial positions. Also worrisome was the violence against migrant and other ethnic minority women.
The expert from Mexico noted that the Swedish representative had said that acts of violence had decreased because of broader knowledge of their significance and the efforts undertaken by the Government. Yet, it was not possible to identify, in any of the reports or the oral presentation, specific data on the scope of violence within the family. What kind of violence existed and which family members were the victims?
The representative of France said that Sweden headed gender equality in the Parliament and the Government itself. Indeed, it ranked number one in the world. At the same time, however, there were disparities, such as in the area of justice. Why were so few women in the tribunals and only a small number in the administrative courts? How could that disparity be explained, and what measures had been undertaken or were planned to increase that number? To counteract sexist advertising, the Government had not found it necessary to amend the Constitution or revise the law on freedom of the press, but the latest report had indicated new reflections on the subject. Could the representative provide an update?
She said that the law on prostitution, operational since January 1999, was a positive step, but the representative had mentioned that the number of prostitutes on the streets had decreased while the number of “hidden” prostitutes might have increased. What methodologies were being used to combat that invisible phenomenon? Concerning the studies carried out by local authorities, what results had been expected and attained in the area of equality? That was very important in a country like Sweden, which was on the way to making progress towards decentralization. She was pleased to learn that Sweden would ratify the Optional Protocol, but what was the anticipated timeframe?
Regarding education, ASA YTTERBERG, of the Swedish Ministry of Education, said that teachers’ education was a key factor for changing young people’s attitudes. Gender perspective was important for enhancing the quality of education, and several changes had been introduced in that respect in recent years. In Sweden, all teachers had to have certain knowledge regarding gender equality and gender issues, regardless of the subjects they taught and the level they taught at. Apart from that, the Government had increased funds for research and stated the importance of including gender perspective in it. It was also implementing a “basic values” project, which would enable teachers to work with basic democratic values, including those of gender equality. In higher education, the gender issues were included in the descriptions of various degrees -- from midwifery to law and teaching.
Ms. BERGH said that the new provisions adopted in the Equality Act would make a difference in the future, for they provided for a number of active measures, apart from the ban on discrimination. The section of the law on cooperation between employers and the employees’ representatives provided for efforts to provide equal pay for equal work. Promoting equal opportunities for pay development, efforts were being made to provide a definition of what “work of equal value” meant. The survey of pay issues was very important, for in order to eliminate inequality, employers and trade unions needed to know what differences existed in practice. Lack of information had been one of the problems encountered by the trade unions in the past, but under the new legislation, they received an opportunity to analyse the situation.
Under the law, employers were obliged to report on measures to reduce the pay gap, she continued. The equal rights Ombudsman was taking part in that work, and four cases were pending before the labour court concerning equal pay. Seminars to discuss the new provisions and the notion of pay discrimination were being organized in the country. The trade unions had taken part in the preparation of the law amendments.
Regarding violence against women, ANNIKA MANSMERUS, of the Ministry of Social Affairs, said that the national centre for battered women was not being funded by the Government any more, but it had received grants from that source. It had never been intended to be completely funded from government funds, for municipalities and local authorities had the primary responsibility for such matters. The local university was also providing assistance. There were also shelters for battered women, which were run and financed by the municipalities, with the help of non-governmental organizations. The Social Services Act provided the framework for services to battered women.
To the question about concealed prostitution, she said that two thirds of such cases took place indoors, in concealed forms. That called for special measures to address the problem. The Government was considering such actions, including creation of “prostitution centres”, in which social workers and health-care professionals would work with prostitutes.
On the same issue, Ms. BERGH added that police could follow customers into brothels, and that was one of the ways to deal with the problem of hidden prostitution. Regarding reservations to the Convention, she said that the report addressed that problem.
BJORN BERSELIUS, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that Sweden would notify the United Nations Secretariat if it decided to withdraw its reservations.
Ms. BERGH said that there were dangers involved in being considered a country with a high level of gender equality. The myth of gender equality could sometimes mask the problems. The issue of pay differential was one of such cases. Most women in Sweden were working within the public sector. The wages in health care and at schools were lower than in male-dominated industries. All the cases before the labour court concerning pay discrimination concerned pay for work of equal value. She hoped the Court’s judgements would guide social partners in dealing with the issue in the future, for it was important to break the gender-segregated market. By making the facts visible, by making employees report on their actions, the Government was trying to advance that matter.
Concerning the position of women, KATARINA SCHMIDT, of the Ministry of Industry, said that in 2000, 28 per cent of chairpersons in central governmental boards were women. Prior to 1999, the figures had been higher. Trying to address the issue, the Government was taking measures to strengthen internal procedures and provide incentives for the promotion of women. There were up to 44 per cent of women within various trade unions’ executive organs. Regarding immigrant women, she added that a special help line had been established to allow them to call in with their problems.
Responding to questions about women in diplomatic posts, Mr. BERSELIUS said that there had been positive developments in that area. Lately, up to 17 per cent of ambassadors and consul-generals were women. The process was not finished, and if everything went as planned, women would account for 19 per cent of such positions this autumn. Great changes at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were to be expected in the near future due to the change in the personnel structure due to retirements, with women taking no less than 31 per cent of diplomatic posts, under current plans. Women personnel included women ambassadors in many parts of the world, including Austria, Kenya and Singapore. Some of the most attractive posts, however, including those in the United States, United Kingdom and France, were held by men. Those posts required great experience, and currently not many women possessed such experience.
HEDVIG TROST, of the Ministry of Justice, said that domestic violence figures showed that 19,000 assaults against women were reported in 1999, with about 500 of those committed by persons close to the assaulted women, and 10 to
15 per cent by other women. There were 879 cases of domestic violence against children under six in 1999, and 5,040 cases against children of seven to 14 years of age. A committee had been appointed in 1998 to investigate domestic violence. After the conclusion of its work, the Government would decide on further actions to address the problem.
Ms. BERGH added that a report on battered women had just been completed in the country. Although not yet fully evaluated, the report suggested that it was necessary to continue researching the problem. The issue was being discussed by the Government, for different kinds of violence required different measures.
Regarding the situation of migrant women, she said that they found themselves in a very vulnerable situation. The national integration policy adopted in the country was directed towards all immigrants, and in particular women. The clash between cultures needed to be taken into consideration, and a working group was trying to evaluate the situation. In September, all the ministers concerned would discuss further action in that respect. The National Integration Office was taking part in the work. One of the interesting projects involved a dialogue on violence against immigrant women, which involved immigrant organizations. The purpose of the project was to change the attitude towards immigrant women. The country also strictly insisted on the observation of all gender equality policies on behalf of all immigrants.
Regarding women professors, Ms. YTTERBERG said that there was a significant increase in their number, and they now constituted 19 per cent of the total. The numbers needed to be closely monitored in the future. The highest proportion of women professors was in the education field, and the lowest in technology. The Government had been setting targets on the recruitment of women professors since 1997. The process was slow, and new actions needed to be implemented. It was important to increase quotas and involve a larger number of universities. A future generation shift was expected to resolve the problem, but it was also important to monitor the issue. It was also true that women professors often had lower wages than men and that they did not receive the same level of research resources as their male counterparts. The Government needed to pay further attention to that problem.
Ms. BERGH, in response to another question, said that the responsibility within the Government for gender equality rested with the Agriculture Department, as it had been that Minister’s own wish to be in charge of that area. That decision had not been political. Rather, it was a response to the interest of that particular Minister. The issue had been situated in various ministries over the years, including in Social Affairs, Culture, Industry, and under the Office of the Prime Minister.
To a question about the regulation of sexist advertising, she said it was not regulated by law. The issue had been debated in the Parliament on several occasions. It had been concluded that a legal prohibition of sexist advertising demanded a change in the Constitution. Thus, the debate concluded that certain conditions should be present before such legislation should be considered. First, such legislation must be the only alternative to dealing with that issue. Also, those kinds of advertisements must be so offensive as to warrant restriction of the freedom of speech. Such legislation would only reach discriminatory advertisements and not those aimed at consolidating traditions. Given those points, political agreement remained elusive.
Regarding a question about Sweden’s ratification of the Optional Protocol, she assured experts that the Government expected to do so next year.
Additional Comments and Questions by Experts
The expert from Italy said she had not seen much progress on the very important issue of women’s equality in the field of employment. In that respect, Sweden was always more or less at the same place. At the same time, the country was a model for women worldwide in equality issues. In terms of women's participation in political and decision-making processes, the world had looked to Sweden. Also, it was the first country to introduce a welfare State and the first to have founded the institution that today bore the name “ombudsman”. That was why the persistence of inequality was so surprising. The changes that had occurred between the periods covered by the two reports had focused on the phenomenon of violence. To discovered its wide-ranging nature in Swedish society was very surprising, as that usually occurred in the presence of inequality and power imbalances between men and women.
She said she had perceived some erosion in the welfare State, and asked if that was correct. For instance, the government representative had not mentioned elderly women in her oral presentation, which was a very important issue today, given the ageing of the population worldwide. She congratulated the Government on the progress made in improving the situation of migrant and refugee women. It surprised her, however, that during its presidency of the European Union, it had not taken any initiative towards harmonizing legislation on the problem of prostitution. Sweden could have taken the lead in that regard. Hopefully, it would do so in another context.
The expert from Cuba reiterated the importance of evolving a national policy on the multiple kinds of discrimination practised against migrant women. Their employment had increased in Sweden, but so had racism and xenophobia, particularly among young people. That was of great concern. She asked about the country's efforts to fight against racism, prevent related violence, and punish it. Also, how was education being used to reverse the trend?
Turning to the participation of women in the judiciary, one of the reports had indicated that great numbers of them were graduating from law schools. At the same time, however, only 32 per cent of the labour tribunals were women, 20 per cent were permanent judges, and 18 per cent served in the general tribunals. The report had stated that those figures were expected to change. Had they? The new legislation on violence, which was broad and very positive, punished the client who paid for sexual relations, but what did it do about pimping? It seemed that those "procurers" were delinquents who took advantage of women and enslaved them.
On education, she said, Swedish law guaranteed gender equality in terms of access to public schools, but what about private schools? What percentage of boys and girls in Sweden attended public schools, and to what degree was the law enforced in private schools? Also, there were educational centres in Sweden where there was separate education for boys as for girls. Could the representative expand on that point? Also, had there been progress in the legislative sphere to enforce women’s equality in practice? There were important areas where gender inequality persisted in Sweden. Obviously, the educational work needed to be broadened and deepened in order to eliminate cultural patterns and stereotypes that continued to strongly imprint Swedish society.
The expert from China said that many questions had been asked this morning, to which there had been many excellent replies. Indeed, Swedish women were leading the world in many areas. Their participation in politics, for example, had attracted world attention. The fifth report stated that women ministers had been responsible for fields not traditionally dominated by women, but in the Parliament women’s main responsibility was in the traditional fields. Did that mean that in senior leadership positions, with respect to the division of labour in various committees, women’s role was still different from that played by men? Did those reflect the preferences of women students? Certainly, their role in the labour market would seem to indicate such preferences. Policies to encourage women in the sciences had been implemented by the Government. Had those made a difference?
The expert from Israel asked whether positive special measures and the elaboration of a gender equality plan were mandatory. If so, did an employer’s failure to follow it result in any form of sanctions? Also, could a woman not appointed under such a plan go to court and say she was equally qualified for the position, but -- in clear breach of the plan -- had not been selected. On the low number of women judges, was there any positive action planned? The comment that promotions to professorships must be based solely on merit worried her, since positive special measures promoted rather than countered merit. Given the heavy concentration of women in the public sector (some 55 per cent according to the report), and the conclusion of the International Labour Organization (ILO) that wage differences in Sweden were greater within the public sector than within the private sector -- was that being addressed?
She noted that the cases before the labour courts all concentrated on equal pay for work of equal value. Yet the decision of the labour courts seemed surprising with respect to what constituted work of equal value. For example, it was surprising that midwives were not to be compared with clinical engineers in hospitals. In the country representative’s comments, it was pointed out that a new law would contain a definition of equal value. She had also said that trade unions which bargained the wage scales of men and women would be entitled to information. That was a positive step, but on the question of discrimination against women, trade unions had not proved to be the pioneers of women in the workplace in any country. The optimism about trade unions being a major agent for securing equal pay for equal value for women was questionable. Further, where could women bring action against unions on the basis that they had not succeeded in that regard?
She congratulated Sweden on its parental leave policy and on having counted the child-care years as participation in the accumulation of pension benefits. Where did subsidization of those leaves come from? Was the liability for payment imposed on individual employers? Regarding the statement in the report that the burden for caring for the elderly had fallen on women as a result of a reduction in services relying on public funds -– were there similar leave and pensions provisions for the care of the elderly?
Concerning violence against women, she noted that only 4 per cent of complaints of rape actually resulted in a conviction. What was the stage at which the complaint was withdrawn from the legal system –- at the level of the police, State prosecution, or the court hearing itself? Would the promising proposal for the representation of crime victims start at the very early stages of the complaint and not from the time that the court hearing commenced? Also, what was the current definition of rape? Were there elements in the definition that made it particularly difficult to prove it in court, and what were the conditions for presenting evidence? Regarding girl children, what was the situation with respect to young women sent abroad to marry earlier than the minimum age for marriage in Sweden?
Responding to questions, Ms. Bergh said that women constituted 23 per cent of the permanent judges and 60 per cent of the non-permanent judges. Historically, the judiciary had been a very male-dominated area. She was hopeful that all of those non-permanent judges would eventually become permanent judges, but that process took a long time.
To a question about whether Sweden was a transition or destination when it came to trafficking in women, she said it was a destination. Some 200 to 500 women were trafficked into Sweden each year. The Government was working very hard to find solutions to that relatively new phenomenon. Concerning the dissemination of research and studies on gender issues, those were distributed at the local level. The central authorities had a duty to disseminate such research to the regional and local levels. At the regional level and at county and administrative boards, there was a gender-equality expert who was responsible for conducting and promoting gender equality.
Concerning the issue of violence against women, various county boards had conducted conferences on that phenomenon, and discussions were ongoing. The Government was working very closely with various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) concerned with the issue. Several experts had expressed surprise at the incidence of violence against women, but she did not think that it was higher in Sweden than in many other countries. Much effort had been made to improve statistics to provide the Government with a true understanding of the problem. It was also researching better ways of dealing with it. There was a proposal for a new bill and the creation of a new advisory board to respond to all related questions. That consisted not only of governmental authorities but of NGOs and university researchers.
To the question about whether she thought gender mainstreaming was a way forward, she said her answer was yes. Sweden had achieved much, but those gains had not made an impact on social structures. To be able to do that meant talking to those who made the decisions. The gender mainstreaming strategy provided a basis for taking special measures. Also, a national machinery was very much in force. That included, among other departments, an equality affairs division, which was a kind of watchdog over governmental activities, and an equal opportunities commission. There was also a council on equality issues, which consisted of all NGOs concerned with gender equality. The council met with the minister four times each year.
MAISOUN JABALI, of the Ministry of Social Affairs, addressed the situation of elderly women. As a result of the changing demographic situation, the issue had recently been the focus of attention in Sweden. To improve the situation of elderly women, proposals had been made to increase their income and provide them with better health services. The 1998 pension reform accommodated the different professional profiles of women and men. The question of violence against elderly women was also being addressed.
Ms. BERGH said that during its European Union presidency, Sweden had not raised the issue of prostitution, because it was not on the agenda of that organization. Significant differences existed on the issue, and the country was discussing it on a bilateral level. An international conference on prostitution had been held in Stockholm last year, at which various views had been presented. It was important to continue discussing the problem, which could not be separated from the issue of trafficking in people. Sweden was also making efforts to address the problem of racism. The country was initiating a study to determine the need to adopt legislation in that respect.
Responding to questions regarding the Suomis and the Roma people, she said that the national minority policy concerned five ethnic groups. The aim was to provide countrywide measures to ensure languages support and protect their rights. Suomi women were included in the wider gender-equality policies, but they also received special considerations due to administrative provisions on Suomi villages. Elected public administrative authorities comprised 30 per cent of women in the northern regions, where the Suomis lived. The Government supported measures to increase awareness of gender issues among the Suomi people. The Roma people were also considered a minority. Efforts were being made to preserve and strengthen their language and encourage links between local and central government bodies.
On political participation of women in the Parliament, she said that seven out of 16 women parliamentarians chaired various committees within that body.
On boys’ and girls’ preferences in education, Ms. YTTERBERG said that the percentage of women in science and technology fields had increased enormously. Projects had been initiated to increase women’s participation in what had been traditionally men’s subjects. Unfortunately, the same could not be said about men’s participation in so-called “women’s” fields of study, including nursing and teaching. Combining various fields of study in higher education was also being encouraged.
Under the Education Act, all citizens had equal access to education, and all children had an opportunity of attending nursery schools. Focus was placed on teaching basic democratic values at all levels. The curricula for compulsory education defined those values. Some universities were obliged to provide teacher training in the Suomi languages.
On prostitution and pimping, Ms. TROST said that such actions as promoting or exploiting prostitutes were prohibited and punishable under the country’s Penal Code. The new amendments also prohibited purchasing the services of prostitutes. Under other amendments, various crime victims had access to counselling and free representation in the court of law. The quality of public support for crime victims was also being improved.
Ms. BERGH said that gender equality in the workplace was obligatory in both the public and private sectors. If an employer failed to prepare an annual action plan, he could be brought before the Equal Opportunities Commission. Also, an employer who failed to implement such a plan could be sanctioned under the law. The equal opportunities Ombudsman and the trade unions had the right to bring cases before the Commission. An individual could not go to court in connection with the equality plans.
Regarding the pay gap, she said that the aim of the cases before the Labour Court was to get a judgement stating that women’s work was of equal value to the work of men. A recent judgement had determined that the work of a midwife was of equal value to that of her male counterpart. Unfortunately, however, the Ombudsman did not win that case. There was no right to appeal the Labour Court’s judgement. Trade unions in Sweden were paying more attention to gender issues lately. Individuals could not take action against trade unions for not representing them in a proper manner.
Regarding parental leave, Ms. JABALI said that parental cash benefits were financed through taxes and compulsory contributions from those employed. The benefits were administered by the national insurance board. Cash benefits were also provided to those caring for their elderly relatives who were seriously ill. The care benefit was paid for a maximum of six days at a maximum of 80 per cent of the caregiver’s income.
Regarding the current definition of rape, Ms. TROST said that under the Penal Code that crime involved forcing another person to have sexual intercourse or engage in another sexual act by violence or threat. That crime was punishable by incarceration of up to six years. In cases of gross rape, a sentence of up to 10 years could be imposed. There was no focus on the consent or lack thereof, as it was important to avoid focusing on the behaviour of the victim. Rape also involved taking advantage of a person’s incapacitation, including intoxication. If committed by more than one perpetrator, it was considered a gross crime.
She went on to say that the prosecutor had to prove the existence of threats or violence. A high rate of reported crimes could be attributed to the fact that one person could be reported for a number of crimes. Not all incidents of rape were reported, and victims often did not want to talk about the alleged crime in court.
Regarding marriages abroad, she explained that it was a big problem for those involved. The legislation was complex, and, in some cases, a marriage entered into in another country was not legal in Sweden. The problem was being considered by the authorities in order to improve the legislation.
The expert from Japan expressed her appreciation for Sweden’s “high attainment” of gender equality, but found there was still much to be done. The most significant question concerned the wage gap between men and women, which had widened since 1990. That tendency had indicated that many governmental efforts aimed at tackling the problem had been unsuccessful. That outcome could be linked to women’s responsibility for household chores and to globalization, which pressed employers to acquire a cost-effective labour force. Despite the launch of a job evaluation programme by the Government, many female occupations remained underrated. After the programme’s conclusion, the Swedish Government had organized several conferences to disseminate the knowledge and experience gained, but dissemination was not enough and more drastic measures were needed.
She suggested that perhaps the minimum wage could be determined in proportion to certain percentages of wages of equal value male-segregated occupations. What was the feasibility of that idea? Also, the neighbouring country of Finland had succeeded in reducing the wage gap by introducing a job evaluation programme. She would recommend stronger measures in Sweden.
The expert from the Republic of Korea said she could feel the genuine effort of the Government towards gender equality and mainstreaming. As a new member, one problem she had had with the reports was the many references to previous reports, which she had not reviewed. In future reporting, could the authors briefly explain the essence of the contents?
She said she was glad to see the policy trend towards greater attention to changing male behaviours and attitudes, from instituting a fathers’ day to the treatment of male aggressors. She read in one of the reports that a two-year project on men and gender equality at work was supposed to conclude in June. She wished to know the results of that study. Also, how effective had been the treatment of male perpetrators of violent behaviour?
Regarding the new law on prostitution, she asked how many men had been punished since its enactment in January 1999, and what the response to the new law had been. The issue was very important as prostitution was quite widespread, especially in her own region. There were also conflicting positions with respect to whether or not to legalize it. Which policy really worked? Had the new law really worked for women? Also, was there a problem in Sweden of sexual violence in cyberspace or the dissemination of pornography via the Internet?
The expert from the Philippines said she appreciated all of the Government’s efforts to comply with the provisions of the Convention. Remaining on her list of the questions was the issue of violence against women with disabilities. She had not heard any description of measures to protect and safeguard them. She had heard that the Government was still trying to acquire data, but it seemed to have acknowledged that the problem existed. So, before completing a compilation of statistics, could some measures be taken to protect those women?
Concerning the recruitment of domestic labour from developing to developed countries, there was an insidious practice on the part of many European countries to recruit young women to do domestic work through the so-called “au pair” system. Its original concept had been to forge a cultural exchange, but since most European countries had tightened immigration laws for domestic workers from outside the region, other ways and means were being found, usually resulting in a
series of violations. Only one of the five Nordic countries -- Denmark -- had announced a policy against au pairs. Young women, therefore, were being imported for unprotected labour. Could there be a future policy against circumventing immigration laws to bring in such unprotected domestic labour?
The expert from Indonesia said that most of her concerns had been addressed, particularly on the issue of domestic work. In the fourth report, it was mentioned that science centres had been established as part of gender equality efforts, but that had not been mentioned in the fifth report. To what extent had those centres been used to encourage girls to study science and technology and convince them of its importance? It would not be possible to improve their lives without mastering those skills.
She said she sought clarification on a point made in the fifth report that, beginning in 1994 all individual-based statistics would be divided along gender lines unless there were special reasons for not doing so. What were those special reasons? She applauded the idea of launching a common basic values project, since those underpinned a change in attitudes and led to gender mainstreaming. Despite progress in education, equality was still lacking in the areas of employment and decision-making, among others. It was important to further study why. Mental and psychological readiness might be lacking on the participation of women candidates and employers. In that connection, would Sweden further study the reasons for that very slow progress? she asked.
The expert from South Africa pressed the question of the placement of the national machinery. Was it the best practice to move it around the various ministries?
The expert from Argentina said that women’s representation in Parliament had been, for the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, the driving force in their fight to combat discrimination against women. Concerning a crisis telephone line for migrants, what services did a woman caller receive -– medical, therapeutic, psychological, legal, and so forth? Also, was there a special refuge for women and would she be received in family surroundings? Throughout the presentation, the delegation had said how difficult it was to determine cases of violence within the family. Why did only migrant women, and not abused children or old women, have access to the crisis line?
Many questions had been raised with regard to prostitution, she said. Still, she wished to know whether it was mostly Swedish or migrant women who practised prostitution. She had heard that Sweden was a country of destination for trafficking. Were there prostitutes from other nationalities? Who was committing violence against children –- the parents, certain sectors of society, the schools? Were there any aids to their recovery, and what was the punishment for aggressors? She was pleased to hear about some arrangements for senior citizens, but when women earned less than men and lived longer, did they become burdens on the other family members? And what about the women who were ill? Was there any kind of programme or policy for them, apart from certain subsidies?
The representatives of Sweden responded to the last round of questions.
Ms. BERGH said that the country did not intend to introduce any minimum wage legislation. The newly introduced legal provisions would be further evaluated to determine their usefulness. Regarding prostitution, she said that she was certain that it was possible to protect the human rights of prostitutes, even while
criminalizing their actions. Special arrangements were in place to achieve that purpose. The police found the new legislation on prostitution very useful.
Ms. TROST said, under the act prohibiting the purchase of sexual services, 29 men had been convicted in 2000. The provisions of the Penal Code also applied to child pornography in cyberspace. Last year, there had been 29 convictions of those guilty of the crime of child pornography. A special unit was responsible for fighting this crime. There was also a law on the responsibility of persons maintaining electronic message boards. Work was under way for improving the framework for combating child pornography within the European Union.
Responding to several questions, Ms. MANSNERUS said violence against disabled women had its roots in the common attitudes towards people with disabilities. The national plan in that respect sought to overcome the views of seeing the disabled as demanding people, who were a burden on society, and to improve the way the disabled were treated. Many disabled people in Sweden were entitled to personal assistants, and it was important to properly educate those workers.
She did not have the statistics regarding the nationalities of prostitutes in Sweden’s major cities, she said. The telephone help line for immigrant women was only part of the efforts to provide assistance to women in need. In particular, the line helped those women who came from different cultures and were not fluent in Swedish. There were also lines for other groups, including children and youth.
Ms. BERGH said that additional information on several questions would be provided in the country’s next report. The question on the au pair system would be forwarded to other Nordic countries. The common values project was continuing within the country’s schools. In order for various ministries to address the gender issues, it was important to provide them with sufficient budget means.
The Committee’s Chairperson, CHARLOTTE ABAKA (Ghana), said Sweden could be viewed as a model in many areas, and for that reason, more was expected from it than from other countries. It was among the leaders in such areas as reduction of infant and maternal mortality, for example. The concerns included equal participation of women in the judiciary and at the professorial level and the gap in wages between men and women. She hoped that most of the concerns expressed by the experts would be addressed.
In conclusion, Ms. BERGH thanked the members of the Committee and promised that the country would come back with the answers to the questions. The Government was aware of the problems, and she hoped that the country would be able to correct them.
At the conclusion of the meeting, IVANKA CORTI of Italy, Chairperson of the pre-session working group, introduced a document containing lists of questions for the representatives of the countries reporting to the current session. She said that during its pre-session meetings the group had unanimously adopted the shortened format of presenting the questions, grouping them by issue and not by articles of the Convention.
The Committee proceeded to adopt the report of its pre-session working group.