COMMITTEE WELCOMES ICELAND’S REPORT ON IMPLEMENTATION OF CONVENTION ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN

17 January 2002
WOM/1308

COMMITTEE WELCOMES ICELAND’S REPORT ON IMPLEMENTATION OF CONVENTION ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN

17/01/2002
Press ReleaseWOM/1308

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

Twenty-sixth Session

532nd Meeting (AM)

COMMITTEE WELCOMES ICELAND’S REPORT ON IMPLEMENTATION OF CONVENTION

ON ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN

Reservations Expressed on Non-Incorporation

Of Convention Provisions into Domestic Icelandic Law

While welcoming “visible achievements” in the implementation of the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in Iceland, members of the Convention monitoring body today questioned that country’s decision not to incorporate the treaty into domestic law.  They also noted a contradiction between the high level of education and the lack of corresponding equality in the labour market, represented by such phenomena as a “gender gap” in pay and a high percentage of women in part-time jobs.

According to Iceland’s third and fourth periodic reports, which were discussed at today’s morning and afternoon meetings of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Convention “has not been legalized under the domestic law, whereas it is binding according to international law.”  Iceland signed the Convention in 1980 and ratified it in 1985.

[The Committee’s 23 experts from around the world (acting in their personal capacities) monitor compliance with the Convention, which requires States parties to eliminate discrimination against women in their enjoyment of civil, political and cultural rights.  An Optional Protocol of December 2000 entitles the Committee to consider petitions from individuals or groups of women who have exhausted national remedies and to conduct inquiries into grave or systematic violations of the Convention.] 

The reports were introduced by Hanna Sigridur Gunnsteindottir, head of Division of the Ministry of Social Affairs of Iceland, who also provided updated information on the implementation of the Convention in her country.  In particular, she informed the Committee that in May 2000, a new Gender Equality Act had been passed in Iceland.  The new instrument emphasized that gender equality must be taken seriously as a mutual responsibility of both women and men.  It also established a new institution:  the Centre for Gender Equality, administered by the Ministry of Social Affairs.

She added that while much had been achieved, the Government was fully aware that additional effort needed to be made.  At the moment, official committees were mapping the gender situation in the country and preparing a new action plan for 2002-2006, which would place more emphasis on mainstreaming ideology and methods.

The experts commended Iceland for ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention in March 2001, and noted its intention to ratify amendments to Article 20 of the Convention on the Committee meetings, saying that the political will of the Government in implementation of the Convention was quite obvious.  They also welcomed the regular submission of Iceland’s periodic reports and their thorough preparation in accordance with the Committee’s guidelines.

Speakers in the article-by-article discussion of Iceland’s efforts in implementation of the Convention were impressed with involvement of men in the women’s issues in Iceland, as well as with the country’s excellent achievements in the field of education.  It was pointed out that commendable legal changes, however, needed to be accompanied by educational efforts to disseminate the new provisions.

Among other issues discussed in the debate were women’s participation in public life; their health; prostitution and trafficking in women; violence against women and children; affirmative action; “sensitivity training”; maternal/paternal leaves; abuse of alcohol; and recent legislative amendments.

Ms. Gunnsteinsdottir, and the Director of the General Centre for Gender Equality, Valgerdur H. Bjarnadottir, responded to the experts’ questions and comments, saying, in particular, that the Ministry of Social Affairs was considering incorporating the entire Convention into appropriate domestic law.

The Committee will resume its work at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 18 January, when it is scheduled to begin its consideration of Portugal’s reports.

Background

Today, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was expected to take up the third and fourth periodic reports presented by Iceland (document CEDAW/C/ICE/3-4), covering the period between 1992 and 1997.

The document places emphasis on the issues of women’s employment, violence against women and the status of women in the country’s economy.  According to the report, at the time of its preparation, a new four-year action programme on the advancement of gender equality was presented to the Icelandic Parliament.  Based on the Beijing Platform for Action, the new plan places special focus on the mainstreaming of gender equality.

The report says that the equal status of the sexes is stipulated in the country’s Constitution, and a special equal-status law has been in effect since 1976.  Iceland has ratified all the major international treaties applying to the human rights of women.   The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was signed by Iceland in 1980 and ratified in 1985.  This instrument has not been legalized under the domestic law, but it is binding according to international law.   It was published in 1995, and in 1996 the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association organized a special introduction of the Convention.  The recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, made when Iceland’s report was discussed in February 1996, were published in the 1996 annual report by the Office for Gender Equality of Iceland.

The document states that the authorities play an important role in overcoming traditional views on gender.  The country’s equal rights machinery includes the Icelandic Equal Status Council and the Office for Gender Equality, as well as the Equal Status Complaints Committee, which consists of three attorneys appointed by the Minister for Social Affairs.  Among the measures taken by the Council are a campaign focused on increasing the number of women on the municipal councils, and the appointment of a special Men’s Committee in order to increase men’s participation in efforts towards gender equality.  Iceland also takes an active part in Nordic equal rights cooperation and is currently participating in the advancement of the Nordic equal-status cooperation programme.

Regarding women’s increasing participation in political leadership, the report states that in the latest parliamentary elections, a large number of women led the slates in the constituencies and for the first time in history, a woman was elected to chair a political party.  From 1980 to 1996, a woman held the office of President in Iceland.  The report also presents tables on gender percentages in top State positions and in the diplomatic service.

Under the Act on Maternity Leave, parents are guaranteed a six-month maternity leave.  Mothers and fathers may divide this period between themselves.  Recent years have seen an increasing focus on the participation of men in the upbringing and care of children.  Some debate has taken place on the issue of paternity leave, with statistics indicating that only 0.3 per cent of fathers take advantage of such an opportunity.  [State legislation allows all fathers the right to leave, but not to full pay.]  Under the Government’s latest action programme, civil servants would enjoy the option of flexible office hours, which would allow them to combine their family responsibilities with their participation in the labour market.

The report also provides percentages of students by gender according to fields of study.  Since the 1980s, about 60 per cent of graduate students in the country have been women.  The figures illustrate that equality between the genders has been achieved in this regard.  There has been steady increase in the number of women in traditionally male fields of study.  However, it does not seem that men are becoming equal with women in traditional women’s fields.

The country’s economy is highly dependent on the work contribution of women, who form the backbone of the welfare service, the schools, the health system and all general services.   At 76.8 per cent, the Icelandic women’s employment rate is among the highest in the world.  There is very little difference between the employment percentage of university-trained women and men.  Despite the formal equality of genders under the Equal-Status Act, however, the surveys have clearly shown a significant difference in the wages of men and women.  Following a special study to determine whether women are subject to gender-related discrimination on the labour market, measures are currently under discussion to address this problem.  Among them are a total revision of the wage system and increased equality in family responsibility.

Regarding violence against women, the report states that according to a recent study of the causes, extent and nature of such violence, 1.3 per cent of women and 0.8 per cent of men had been subjected to violence by their spouse over the preceding 12 months.  Some 4.5 per cent of women reported having been raped, with more than 80 per cent knowing the perpetrator.   Only 13.3 per cent filed a charge because of the rape.  While most women subjected to violence sought informal help from their families, assistance was also available from the Women’s Shelter in Reykjavik.  Since 1993, a Crisis Centre for Rape Victims has been operating at Reykjavik City Hospital’s Emergency Ward.  Recently, three committees were appointed to address the problem of violence and to further study means of its elimination.  In 1995, a bill was passed in the State Treasury guaranteeing the payment of damages to the victims of violence as ruled by the court.

Introduction of Iceland Reports

As four years had passed since the compilation of Iceland’s reports, HANNA SIGRIDUR GUNNSTEINSDOTTIR, head of Division of the Ministry of Social Affairs of Iceland, provided new and additional information in presenting her country’s case to the Committee.  She informed the experts that her Government had ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention in March 2001 and was preparing the ratification of the amendments to Article 20 of the Convention on the Committee meetings.

She said that a new Act on the Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men (the Gender Equality Act) had been passed in Iceland in May 2000.  The previous Act had been revised to take account of changes in the field of gender equality and stimulate work towards equality in important areas of society, focusing on the situation in the administration and the definition of specific projects.  The new instrument emphasized that gender equality must be taken seriously as a mutual responsibility of women and men.  It also established a new special institution:  the Equal Status Bureau (or the Centre for Gender Equality), which is administered by the Ministry of Social Affairs.  The new institution had taken over most of the tasks of the former Office of Gender Equality. 

Under the Act, public institutions, employers and non-governmental organizations were obliged to provide the Centre for Gender Equality with general information on relevant matters, and enterprises with more than 25 employees were to create a gender policy or make special provisions regarding gender equality.  The Act prohibited discrimination of all types (direct or indirect) on the grounds of gender.  The employer was prohibited from dismissing an employee seeking redress on the basis of the Act.  Each Ministry was required to appoint an equality coordinator to mainstream gender equality within its activities; violations of the Act were punishable by fines. 

In 1998, the Complaints Committee on Equal Status had received 11 new cases and completed work on several cases carried over from 1997, she continued.  It processed all the cases from 1998 and 10 of those received in 1999.  Eight new cases were received in 2000, with 12 cases carried over from 1999, and five in 2001. 

The Gender Equality Council was a nine-member body, appointed by the Minister of Social Affairs, which made systematic efforts to equalize the status and the rights of women and men in the labour market and submitted proposals to the Minister of Social Affairs on measures to be taken in the field.  In the last year, the Council had put special emphasis on gathering information to better understand and eliminate the gender wage gap.

The authorities played an important role in overcoming traditional views on gender roles, she said.  Since 1991, the Government had passed three four-year action programmes on gender equality.  According to the latest of those plans – the programme of 1998 -– each Ministry had taken measures to eliminate all forms of gender discrimination.  Iceland also took part in several transnational action plans, including the Nordic Council of Ministers action plan.

Special temporary measures to improve the status of women or men for the purpose of ensuring equality were not considered violations of the Gender Equality Act, she continued.  It was not considered discriminatory to make special allowances for women due to pregnancy or childbirth, or engage only men or women due to objective factors connected with the occupation.  The Act prohibited indicating preference for one sex over the other in advertising vacancies. 

She also described the new Maternity/Paternity Leave of 2000, designed to allow men and women to participate equally in paid employment and guaranteeing children time with both parents.  Men and women had an equal right to take a three months’ leave in connection with the birth, first-time adoption or fostering a child until the time he or she reached the age of 18 months.  Employers were obliged to meet employees’ wishes in that regard.  Parents could then divide a further three months’ leave between themselves according to their wishes.  Mothers had an obligation, however, to take maternity leave for at least the first two weeks after the birth of a child.  The Act also guaranteed pregnant women and new mothers additional health and safety protection at work.

Regarding trafficking and prostitution, she said that it was a growing concern in her country.  In the 1990s, for the first time, strip-clubs had appeared in Iceland.  The Government was aware that prostitution and trafficking in women were potentially associated with those clubs and was investigating whether that was the case.  The local and national authorities, in cooperation with labour unions, were also looking for ways to reduce the present activities of such businesses.  In 2000, the Minister of Justice had commissioned a study on prostitution in the capital area, and the authorities were now preparing measures to address the issue.

Work was also under way to increase women’s participation in politics, she said.  At present, the percentage of women in local governments stood at 28.5 per cent.  Reykjavik, however, had equal gender representation at most levels.  Men and women had equal opportunities for promotion in the diplomatic service.  The reason for the limited number of women in senior diplomatic positions was that prior to 1980, few women had applied for diplomatic service posts.  In recent years, special efforts had been made to increase their participation, and in 1998-1999, the Foreign Ministry had recruited women to 50 per cent of all new positions requiring a university degree. 

She went on to say that in March 1998, an educational initiative had been announced by the Minister of Education, Science and Culture, which attempted to create an efficient but flexible education system focusing on the needs of individual students.  At the University of Iceland, some 61 per cent of students were women.  The proportion of women was over 50 per cent in most areas, except engineering, economics and computer science.  One of the recent programmes had been undertaken to enhance female leadership in economic life and encourage women to choose male-dominated fields of study. 

Regarding the women’s situation in the labour market, she said that in 2000, women’s labour participation at the ages of 16 through 74 was 79 per cent.  The comparable figure for men was 88 per cent.  Unemployment in 2001 was 1.9 per cent among women and 1 per cent among men.  In recent years, special attention had been given to women’s employment, and special grants had been provided to women for running businesses.

Turning to women’s health, she said that the 2000 report on the matter had served as a basis for proposals under consideration by the Minister of Health.  The Icelandic Government was also working to establish effective remedies for and prevention of violence against women.  The police were obliged to provide guidance to victims regarding their rights under the law.  The victims of sexual offences had a right to legal advice, and special legal provisions determined the judges’ right to hold sensitive hearings on camera at the request of either a victim or a plaintiff.  There were also rules regarding the imposition of restraining orders for the protection of victims; and measures for the protection of witnesses in connection with domestic violence or sexual offences.  Special measures had been put in place for the taking of statements from child victims of violence. 

In conclusion, she said that while much had been achieved in recent years, the Government was fully aware that additional efforts must be made.  At the moment, there were many official committees at work, mapping the gender situation and setting the agenda for the future.  One committee was investigating incorporation of gender issues into official planning and policy.  An investigation of women’s economic situation was also under way.  A working group had been established to ensure gender mainstreaming in governmental bills.  A new action plan for 2002-2006 was being prepared.  More emphasis would be placed on the mainstreaming of ideology and methods.  It was also important to increase the involvement of men in matters of equality. 

Comments by Experts

Committee Chairperson Charlotte Abaka (Ghana) commended the delegate of Iceland for responding so effectively to the issues raised by the Pre-session Working Group.  She commended Iceland for its regular submission of periodic reports.  The combined reports presented today contained much information and were written in accordance with the Committee’s guidelines.  She also commended Iceland for ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention and took note that preparations were under way to ratify to Article 20.1 to the Convention.   

In the discussion that followed, most of the experts also commended Iceland for its timely submission of reports in accordance with the Committee's guidelines.  They expressed their satisfaction with the visible achievements made in Iceland and with the fact that Iceland had turned the suggestions made at previous sessions into reality.

One expert raised the issue of human rights treaties in general.  He understood that only the European Convention on human rights seemed to be binding in Iceland.  Other Nordic States had argued that they had incorporated only the European Convention into domestic law because they were members of the European Union.  That was not the case of Iceland.  Why had Iceland taken the position not to incorporate the Convention and other United Nations treaties into domestic law?  On a related issue, he said there were provisions in Iceland’s Constitution on equality.  Would it be a good idea to incorporate Article 1 of the Convention into domestic law, thereby providing a clear definition of discrimination? 

On another related question, he noted that the Equal Status Complaints Committee had an advisory function only.  Was it possible to make decisions of that Committee binding?  There were a number of special courts in Iceland and it would not be revolutionary for the Complaints Committee to establish binding legislation.

On the issue of employment, another expert was surprised that the gender pay gap still existed in Iceland.  That issue had long been discussed in the Nordic countries.  She could not understand why another pilot project on the matter was needed, when previous studies had already been conducted.  Were the efforts of the Ministry of Social Affairs connected to the Ministry of Finance?  Did the  50 contracts referred to in the report cover all of the public sector?  What was the content of those contracts?  What had the gender-neutral job evaluation instrument accomplished?  She asked for more information on that instrument, including targets and time frames.  Another expert wanted to know if any legal action had been taken to adjust the wage gap.

Regarding the Kindergarten Act, the expert wondered what could be done to avoid waiting lines for access to kindergarten.  Could legal claims be made to ensure a spot in kindergarten classes?  She was also concerned about the lack of gender sensitivity training for day mothers.  Gender stereotypes were impressed on children at an early age.  She also wished to know if the new aliens law would include a gender-based persecution provision.

Another expert posed questions about the relation between Iceland’s Constitution and the Equal Status Council.  Was it possible for someone to go directly to the Courts to enforce the rights provided for in the Constitution?  Were the courts using the Convention, and were women afforded legal aid when they went to Court?  In many countries there was an equivalent of the Equal Status Council in the various human rights commissions. 

Regarding a “women’s list” or “slate”, were all political parties required to field women candidates? the expert asked.  The expert also noted a lack of women employed as principals and professors.  Would the concept of merit be included at the level of recruitment and promotion?

On the issue of violence against women, one speaker noted that Iceland’s approach towards violence was structured on the welfare aspect of the issue, but she wondered about the punitive and normative aspects of violence.  Why were few women filing charges?  Had research been conducted on that?

Another speaker commended the Government for establishing sexual harassment provisions which went beyond the workplace.  She also commended the parental leave provisions, with many men now taking advantage of the leave option. 

Regarding pension rights, the shifting of pension systems from a contributory system to an actuarially assessed pension right was threatening older women with greatly increased poverty.  Was the Government preparing a report on that issue?  A greater number of women worked part-time jobs or fewer hours than men even when they held full-time work.  The argument that women had equal opportunities in the employment market and should be responsible for pension rights was ignoring basic social facts.  The argument that pension funds must be actuarially viable was not really an argument.  It was a question of “individualism gone crazy” and was a problem threatening many countries. 

Country Responses

Replying to experts’ questions on human rights conventions,

Ms. Gunnsteinsdottir said the policy was to ensure that the issue would be incorporated into specific legislation.  In the case of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Ministry of Social Affairs had been considering implementation of the entire Convention into appropriate domestic law.

On the issue of gender discrimination, the Government was considering implementing the provisions of the Convention into law.  Regarding the Complaints Committee, there were not many special courts in Iceland.  There was a special committee within the Administration for people to make claims.  Some committees made binding decisions, while others did not.

Ms. bjarnadottir said that they were well aware that while much progress had been made, a great deal remained to be accomplished.  On the issue of the Complaints Committee, even though the conclusions of that committee were not binding, in the past year almost all its conclusions had resulted in a contract between the affected person and the employer with compensation.  Most people had been satisfied with the outcome.

Turning to the gender pay gap, she agreed with the expert’s impatience regarding that issue.  From 1994 to 1999, a number of surveys indicated that the pay gap was between some 10 to 16 per cent in the official sector -- a gap that could only be explained by gender.  Regarding the 50 contracts, while the capital had been in the forefront of the issue, the association of local governments had

also followed.  The Government had decided to see the results of an evaluation project before taking another step.  It was at the same time, however, working with other Nordic countries and the European Union in sharing best practices to address the issue. 

Ms. Gunnsteinsdottir said it was important to make young and educated women aware of the need to negotiate salaries at a higher level.  One of the largest trade unions had advertised on television about the need to negotiate salary.

Ms. Bjarnadottir responded to the issue of training of day care mothers and kindergarten waiting lists.  She said there was a legal claim that made it the duty of local governments to provide daycare for children from the ages of two to six.  The training courses for day care workers included gender sensitive training.  On the question of the “women’s list”, while there had been quotas in some of the parties, it was not a Government proposition.  In the current elections at the local level, many political parties had announced that they would propose grade lists with women on 50 per cent of seats. 

She agreed that the lack of female professors was a concern.  Although it was not always the case, merit was a consideration when applying for such positions.  The rule of thumb was that if a woman and man were equally qualified for the job, the woman would be selected.

Ms. GUNNSTEINSDOTTIR added that she would bring the matters discussed in the Committee to the attention of the Icelandic Ministry of Justice.  The Centre for Gender Equality provided assistance to individuals filing gender complaints in the country’s courts.  Citizens could also apply for financial assistance from the Ministry of Finance in filing their cases. 

Regarding rape, she said that in the last three or four years, there had been a serious discussion in the media of the short sentences imposed by the courts.  It seemed that according to public opinion, longer sentences were needed.  However, the final decision in such cases belonged to the courts.

Regarding pension rights, Ms. BJARNADOTTIR said that it was a cause of concern that in reality, men and women, while possessing equal rights under the law, received unequal pensions.

Questions and Comments by Experts

The political will of the Government to implement the Convention was obvious, an expert commented.  The Gender Equality Act was a very positive development, for it provided a new concept of the role of men and women and insisted on changing traditional patterns in such areas as choice of employment, for example.  Legal changes must be accompanied by educational efforts to disseminate the new provisions. 

Regarding part-time employment of women (and 47 per cent of women worked part-time), she said that while it allowed women to be gainfully occupied, there was still a great force of tradition, which assigned domestic work to women.  She inquired about the percentage of full-time women workers.  She also wanted to know how many poor households were headed by women.

Once equality had been established under the law, actual equality was a question of time, another expert said.  Delay in access of women to decision-making positions in Iceland was surprising, however.  Iceland’s case was of special interest in that respect, for it also had women in the highest positions. It was important to analyze the causes of discrimination.  She wanted to know how the problem of women’s under-representation was being addressed in the country. 

Speakers were impressed with the involvement of Icelandic men in women’s issues, as well as the country’s excellent achievements in the field of education.  However, unequal representation in the labour market was in contradiction to those achievements, a speaker said. 

Turning to violence against women, a speaker stressed the importance of working with men to correct their violent behaviour.  She expressed interest in the country’s experience in working with both male perpetrators and male victims of violence.  Also, what was the country doing to change traditional public attitudes towards violence?

Questions were also asked about efforts to reconcile public and family responsibilities of women.  Were the measures to provide women with flexible working hours and to encourage sharing of family responsibilities by husbands and wives accepted by the population? 

Country Response

Ms. BJARNADOTTIR said much emphasis was placed on sensitivity training in Iceland.  Courses, seminars and educational materials were provided for representatives of various groups of society.  There were also well-attended gender-sensitivity courses for teachers.  According to the new education plan, “life-competence” instruction was provided at all levels of education, placing great emphasis on gender and human rights issues. 

Regarding part-time employment, she said that it was not a new phenomenon in Iceland.  It was partly due to the fact that a large portion of the economy was based on fishing and farming.  Women in farming were often registered as part-time workers, combining work at the farm with other duties such as work at a shop or a post office. 

A certain part of the population experienced poverty, she continued, responding to concerns about that problem.  Single mothers and older women were among the poor population.  However, local authorities provided direct financial support for those people and assisted them in their housing needs.  Unemployed women also received training at specialized education centres, and counselling was provided for people with physical problems. 

Ms. GUNNSTEINSDOTTIR added that last year, a so-called “production school” had been established for those who found it difficult to find employment.  Regarding women in decision- and policy-making, she said that several committees had been established to encourage women to take part in politics.  Some progress had been achieved in the proportion of women in the Parliament.  It was true that progress was slow, but some important steps had been made.  Additional research would be carried out regarding the proportion of women in the administration.   

Ms. BJARNADOTTIR agreed with those who would have expected a higher representation of women at the governmental level in Iceland.  There were several reasons why that was not the case.  The Committee investigating how gender was being considered in policy making and planning had sent letters to all ministries and local governments to determine what they were doing to ensure gender equality, both in personnel and in local governments.  They were also encouraged to take new measures.  Such reminders often worked.  Article 4 of the Convention was being used in advertising for new positions.  Political parties enjoyed public financing and could be expected to follow the Equal Rights Acts. 

On the Women’s Alliance and whether it worked as affirmative action, she said the Alliance came into existence at a time when there were very few women in local government and in Parliament.  The Alliance had accelerated the process by getting their own women into government and had put pressure on other parties to place women higher in public positions.  A few years ago, the Alliance’s decision to join the other political parties had proved successful and had contributed to gender mainstreaming.  All ministries were taking part in gender mainstreaming.  There was an equality coordinator in each of the 13 Government ministries.  Their main task was to ensure gender mainstreaming in the ministries’ work.  Mainstreaming would be implemented in the work of all the ministries in the coming four-year action plan.  Today there was 50-50 representation in the central administration of the capital city.

On family life, Ms. Gunnsteinsdottir said the practice of flexible working time was followed in the different ministries.  Flexible time was also being discussed in the private sector.  In the Equal Status Act, there was a special provision for the reconciliation of family life and work.  Daycare was still a problem, however.  Local authorities were trying to meet the demands for daycare.  Regarding the Equal Status Council, the main issue was the labour market.

Also speaking on the Equal Status Council, Ms. Bjarnadottir said the report referred to the old system in which the Office for Gender Equality worked for the Council.  Under the new system, those two institutions were divided.   

Ms. BJARNADOTTIR told the Committee that violence against women was a complex issue, to which more than one article of the Convention referred.  In 1998, several men’s committees had been organized in the country, providing group therapy to men involved in violence.  About 19 per cent of the women related to the participants of such groups reported improved quality of life.  The Ministry of Health was considering continuing the project for another three years.   Iceland was also working in cooperation with the Nordic and Baltic countries to share experience on projects under way.

In recent years, “a lot of training” had been provided to the police, she continued.  The women’s shelter, the counselling centre and incest and rape centres were operating in the country to assist the victims of violence. 

Ms. GUNNSTEINSDOTTIR added that several amendments had been introduced to the penal code and other bodies of legislation in order to provide for the needs of the victims.  The policy-makers were much more aware of the problem of violence, and public attitudes had changed in that respect. 

Comments by Experts

An expert expressed gratitude for the extremely important information in the report, which was both concise and clear.  While it did not contain specific reference to some provisions of the Convention, she had found answers to many of her questions in today’s presentation. 

Regarding trafficking in people and prostitution, she said that work was being done on a multilateral level to tackle that problem.  In view of the gravity of the offence of trafficking in women and children, governments needed to focus particular attention on the matter.  From today’s presentation, it was clear that measures had been adopted in Iceland to deal with violence against children and women.  It was interesting that the Government of Iceland had also provided information regarding domestic violence against men. 

In that connection, questions were asked about cases of child abuse, violence against older women and spousal rape.  Also of concern was the growing consumption of drugs and alcohol among young people. 

On the issue of prostitution, another expert said that while Iceland’s penal code had been modified to address the issue, the phenomenon was nevertheless still growing in Iceland as in other countries.   She asked that Iceland’s next report contain more information about prostitution.  Another expert asked about the provisions of the penal code for prostitution.

Regarding the issue of quotas of women serving on public committees, the target quota of 30 per cent had not been reached, another expert noted.  She wondered if the target had been set too high or if there was a lack of sufficient follow-up.  Was the goal of the Foreign Service to recruit women for up to 50 per cent of its staff reached?  If so, what had been the reactions of male candidates?   

On women in science and technology, the expert wondered if the report referred to a Government or university project.  Education was a cross-cutting area.  Women’s involvement in science and technology was equally important.  She noted an orientation programme for female engineering students.  What specific activities had been taken to foster women’s participation in engineering?

Country Responses

Ms. Bjarnadottir said that her delegation did not have statistics on hand about violence against children.  The issue, however, was “coming out of the dark”.  People were realizing the scope of the problem of incest and other kinds of violence.  There was also growing awareness of domestic violence against mothers and children.  Iceland cooperated on this matter with the other Nordic countries.  All available data would be included in the next report.  Violence against older women, both physical and emotional, was new to the discussion but was also on the agenda.  Iceland was researching the issue with other European nations.  Spousal rape fell under criminal law.  There was, however, a tendency to look more leniently on the issue of marital rape.  Drug abuse was increasing, particularly among young girls.  There was a relation between drug abuse, prostitution and sexual crimes.  Gang rape was often connected to drug abuse and was receiving more attention.

Ms. Gunnsteinsdottir said the Government was aware of the increase of drug abuse and had expended much energy and money to resolve the issue.  Eight treatment centres had been opened across the country and the Government was trying to assess the underlying reasons for increased drug use among youth. 

Ms. Bjarnadottir said that women and alcohol abuse was no longer a taboo subject.  Family counselling at health stations had been strengthened to deal with this issue.  Local authorities were undertaking municipal planning to outlaw strip clubs.  At the moment, strip-club business was decreasing because of growing awareness of the fact that women were forced, either as a result of trafficking or life situations, to undertake that kind of work.    

Responding to a question on the 30 per cent quota for women’s participation on public committees, Ms. Gunnsteinsdottir said that the quota had not been reached.  While the target was not too high in her opinion, other methods might have been used to make women more aware of the importance of their participation in decision-making.

Ms. Bjarnadottir agreed that the quota was not too high.  Women needed to be encouraged.  The procedures for nomination to public committees must be changed. It was a question of finding the right measures to work towards the goal of

30 per cent representation.  The target of 50 per cent female recruitment in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been reached.  In some ministries, the majority of senior officers with university degrees were women. 

On the penalty for prostitution, the Nordic and Baltic countries were cooperating closely to find solutions to the problem, focusing on awareness raising and cooperation on the legal aspects of prostitution.  Government authorities must cooperate to resolve the issue.

The Committee Chairperson thanked the delegation for answering the questions raised in the discussion.  She commended Iceland for its achievements in implementing the Convention.  Some concerns still remained, however, including participation of women in the public and political arena, the fact that the Convention was not part of Iceland’s domestic law, and the fact that there were low sentences for rape and trafficking in women and children.   The Committee hoped that Iceland’s next report would include information on those concerns. 

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For information media. Not an official record.