COMMITTEE VOICES CONCERN OVER REVIVAL OF GENDER STEREOTYPES, HIGH ABORTION RATES, AS ESTONIA REPORTS ON ITS IMPLEMENTATION OF ANTI-DISCRIMINATION CONVENTION

23 January 2002
WOM/1312

COMMITTEE VOICES CONCERN OVER REVIVAL OF GENDER STEREOTYPES, HIGH ABORTION RATES, AS ESTONIA REPORTS ON ITS IMPLEMENTATION OF ANTI-DISCRIMINATION CONVENTION

23/01/2002
Press ReleaseWOM/1312

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

Twenty-sixth Session

539th and 540th Meetings (AM and PM)

COMMITTEE VOICES CONCERN OVER REVIVAL OF GENDER STEREOTYPES, HIGH ABORTION RATES,

AS ESTONIA REPORTS ON ITS IMPLEMENTATION OF ANTI-DISCRIMINATION CONVENTION

Along with the Government’s current actions to promote gender equality in Estonia, a comprehensive strategy was needed to overcome prevailing attitudes towards women, as well as their long-term effect on future generations, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was told as it considered Estonia’s combined initial, second and third reports during its morning and afternoon meetings today.

The reports were submitted in compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which stipulates that a State party should submit its initial report within one year after its entry into force, and subsequent reports every four years thereafter.  Estonia is one of the eight countries reporting to the Committee during its current three-week session.  The other seven are:  Fiji, Iceland, Portugal, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Russian Federation and Sri Lanka.

A resurgence of traditional gender attitudes in Estonia, gender stereotyping in education and in the workplace, low use of the country’s courts in gender discrimination cases, the situation of women without citizenship, and the high incidence of abortions in Estonia were among the main concerns raised by the Committee’s 23 members, who, acting in their personal capacities, monitor countries’ implementation of the Convention.

One expert said the report provided little information on specific measures to overcome the traditional stereotypes “on all fronts”.  [Article 5 of the Convention requires States parties to take measures to overcome sex role stereotyping and prejudice.  According to Estonia’s reports, however, at the beginning of the 1990s, in a backlash against Soviet-era mandatory equality between the sexes, the country had seen a revival of traditional attitudes towards gender roles.  Up to 84 per cent of Estonians taking part in a recent survey claimed that it is a man’s task to earn money and a woman’s duty to take care of home and children.]

Another aspect of the problem was that although Estonian women were well-educated and occupied some important positions in the country (five of the country’s 14 Government ministers, for example, were female), women still played a subordinate role in Estonia.  Recent research had shown that people with higher education had a negative attitude towards women in politics.  An expert suggested that increasing the number of women at the decision-making level could represent yet another way of shattering the stereotypes.

It was noted that the Government had already put in place some important legal and institutional provisions in that regard, and had started to develop cooperation with the country’s increasing number of women’s NGOs to raise awareness of gender issues.  A speaker said that it was crucial that human rights education should be used as a tool for social and political transformation to achieve equality between men and women, especially in transitional periods.  Also important was development of professional expertise on gender matters.

The reports were introduced by Marina Kaljurand, Deputy Under-Secretary for Legal and Consular Affairs of Estonia’s Foreign Ministry, who said that Estonia’s priority areas with regard to gender equality included efforts to strengthen national structures; bring national legislation into conformity with international standards; provide gender-sensitive statistics; and increase women’s participation in the labour market. 

She also informed the Committee about a draft gender equality act, awaiting a first reading in the country’s Parliament.  It was a major step forward, for until recently, the country’s legal system had not provided for an official definition of the concept of “discrimination against women”.  The proposed bill clarified the terminology and definitions with regard to gender equality, explicitly prohibited direct discrimination and provided measures against indirect discrimination.

Commending the State party for ratifying the Convention soon after regaining independence in 1991, the Committee’s Chairperson, Charlotte Abaka of Ghana, pointed out that Estonia’s report only partially complied with the Committee’s general guidelines on form, content and timing.  The purpose of those guidelines was to help both the Committee and the State party to obtain a complete picture of the progress made.  While recognizing the problems that the country experienced as a result of its political and economic transformation, she added that it was regrettable that the initial report had been delayed 10 years.  [The Convention became effective in Estonia in November 1991, but the country’s first report was only submitted in June 2001.]

The Committee will continue its work at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 24 January, when it is expected to take up Uruguay’s combined second and third periodic reports.  

Background

This morning, the Committee was scheduled to consider Estonia’s combined initial, second and third periodic reports (document CEDAW/C/EST/1-3) –- the first document presented since that country acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1991.

According to the document, the country’s Constitution ensures everyone’s equality before the law and prohibits discrimination on grounds of nationality, race, sex, language, or religion.  In the current Estonian legislation, the term “discrimination against women” has not been defined, and there is no legal definition of either direct or indirect discrimination on the basis of gender.  Since the Constitution establishes the priority of international treaty provisions over national legislation, the Convention is directly applicable in Estonia’s courts.

The report states that at the beginning of the 1990s, in a backlash against the Soviet-era mandatory equality between the sexes, the country had seen a revival of traditional attitudes towards gender roles.  According to a recent survey, 84 per cent of Estonians claimed that it is a man’s task to earn money and a woman’s duty to take care of home and children.  While in most developed countries participation of men in housework is increasing, an opposite tendency could be noted in Estonia.  To raise awareness of the problems of inequality, seminars and conferences have been organized by the Estonian Government, legislators and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  In 1998, a Women’s Civic Training Centre was created to provide women with knowledge and skills to participate on an equal basis at all levels of social life. 

While surveys show that children are considered the most important value in life, the actual number of births has been steadily declining in the 1990s, the report further states.  As a result of social transformations, changes have also occurred in attitudes towards cohabitation and children born out of wedlock.  The average age of mothers giving birth rose to 26.4 by 1998, and the average number of children per woman has dropped to 1.21. 

Regarding the role of women in politics, the document says “it is characteristic of Estonian people that they are interested in politics, but do not want to be involved in them themselves:  88 per cent of Estonian women and 77 per cent of Estonian men claimed that they do not and will not participate in politics.  Mainly two population groups regard women’s participation in politics as a negative phenomenon –- people with higher education and people with the highest income.  As they have not changed their opinion, the proportion of women in Parliament or in city or rural municipality councils is not increasing.” 

In 1999, there were 35.6 per cent women candidates in the local council elections, with 28.4 per cent elected.  In the cities and rural municipalities, the percentages were more or less similar.  In larger political parties, the proportion of women is between 30 and 40 per cent.  As of August 2000, there were no women’s parties in Estonia.

Since June 2000, issues of gender equality fall under the competence of the Ministry of Social Affairs, which takes measures to raise awareness of related issues, increase political participation of women and provide training.  It also analyzes available data and existing laws.  In 1998, measures to promote gender equality became part of the Government’s action plan, which envisions measures to achieve equal pay, equal treatment of women and men at work; balanced access to employment and distribution of work and family duties; and participation in European Union equality framework programmes. 

Regarding family violence and violence against women, the document states that this area of concern is not regularly measured and statistically covered in Estonia.  For example, while data on rapes are officially registered by the police, the extent of information on the matter is insufficient, for only a small number of cases are reported to the police.  Until April 2000, criminal proceedings in cases of rape were initiated only on the basis of the victim’s application, with the exception of most severe cases.  The law was amended in order to guarantee better protection of women, especially of minors. 

Estonia reports having no public institutions dealing specifically with violence against women.  The first seminar on this topic was organized in the country in September 1999.  In 2001, a representative survey was carried out, which is intended to serve as a basis for a future national strategy to combat violence against women.

According to the document, working mothers are entitled to special protection, including parental leave and favourable work schedules.  Parental leave is granted to either a mother or a father at their request until the child attains three years of age.  For the duration of the leave, an employment contract is suspended and the employee is paid a child-care allowance by the State.  As for the level of education, women outperform men with regard to the majority of educational indicators.  For instance, 19 per cent of working age women had higher education against 16 per cent of men.  Significant gender disproportions appear at the level of secondary education, depending on the type of training:  vocational education is prevalent among men, and general secondary education among women.

Introduction of Reports

Introducing the reports, MARINA KALJURAND, Deputy Under-Secretary for Legal and Consular Affairs of Estonia’s Foreign Ministry, expressed her delegation’s regrets that, despite the fact that the Convention became effective in Estonia in November 1991, the country’s first report was only submitted in June 2001.

She went on to outline Estonia’s historical background, saying that following the restoration of independence in 1991, several new women’s organizations had been founded there.  Women’s issues and gender equality started to be re-addressed in connection with the preparatory process for the Fourth Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.  In 1996, an inter-ministerial committee for the promotion of gender equality was formed, which defined priority areas with regard to gender equality.  Those included strengthening national gender equality structures; review of national legislation to bring it into conformity with international standards; provision of gender-sensitive statistics; and increase in women’s participation in the labour market.

Gender equality in Estonia was promoted by numerous foreign-funded initiatives, she continued, as well as through extensive contacts with the international community of women’s human rights advocates.  Estonia had acceded to a number of international human rights instruments and ratified several International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions, including the one concerning equal remuneration for men and women for work of equal value.  As a European Union applicant, Estonia was trying to harmonize its national labour legislation with the European Union’s labour standards.  For the promotion of equal opportunities, the country was implementing its national employment action plan of 2002. 

The Estonian Constitution guaranteed equal rights to everyone, she said.  The rights of women had been consolidated into several national laws, including the Employment Contracts Act; the Working and Rest Time Act; the Social Tax Act; the Family Benefits Act; and the Pension Insurance Act.  The language of Estonian laws was usually gender-neutral.  Until recently, the country’s legal system had not provided for an official definition of the concept of “discrimination against women,” and a major step in that respect was the draft 2001 gender equality act.  It clarified the terminology and definitions with regard to gender equality, explicitly prohibited direct discrimination and provided measures against indirect discrimination.  The first reading of the draft was expected in the near future.

If a citizen’s rights and freedoms were violated, he or she had a constitutional right of recourse to the court.  Supervision of the activities of State agencies was exercised by the Legal Chancellor’s Office, which also fulfilled the role of an Ombudsman.  So far, no petitions had been filed with his office concerning the rights of women.  Also, following the Beijing Conference, a Gender Equality Bureau had been established to coordinate the mainstreaming of gender equality efforts into national policies and programmes and prepare national plans for the promotion of women.  The gender equality efforts were supported by annual national employment action plans and other strategic documents creating a long-term framework on human resources development.

Promotion of gender equality was based on extensive Government- and foreign-funded research on the social situation in the country, she continued, among which were studies on hourly wages; family wages; living conditions; and violence.  The Government paid particular attention to increasing public awareness of gender-related issues.  Since 1997 training had been provided to civil servants, Government officials, local authorities and social partners with the aim of creating a network of specialists trained in gender issues. 

Turning to civil-society involvement in equality matters, she said that the number of Estonian women’s NGOs currently totaled 160.  In 2001, for the first time, her Government allocated financial resources to support women’s round-table activities and networking.  Compared with 10 or even five years back, a qualitative change had taken place in women themselves.  They had become more self-assertive, informed and aware of their interests and ways to promote them.  The major organizations involved in the efforts to empower women were the Centre for Civil Society Training; the Women’s Training Centre; the Estonian Women’s Studies and Resource Centre; and the Estonian Rural Women’s Union. 

Continuing, she said that the role of women at the decision-making level should be larger, particularly in the country’s economy.  Step by step, a change in attitudes could be noticed, however.  Women’s roles in various spheres of society had become a major topic in the media.  Gender equality aspects had been incorporated in the platforms of several political parties.  Following the latest Parliamentary elections, the percentage of women there had increased from 12 per cent in 1992 to 18 per cent in 1999.  At the local level, women occupied 26 per cent of municipal council seats. 

The proportion of women among Government ministers had been insignificant since the country’s independence was restored, she said.  Therefore, it was her extreme pleasure to inform the Committee that the new Government now being formed would have the highest number of women ministers in the country’s history -– five, among them the Ministers for foreign affairs, culture, social affairs, education and transportation.  Also, the chairperson of the Estonian Confederation of Trade Unions was a woman.  

On women’s participation in the work force, she said that compared with    71 per cent in 1990, the labour participation rate for women had fallen to 54 per cent in 2000.  During the same period, the rate of men’s participation had fallen from 82 to 63 per cent.  The position of Estonian women was comparatively low in the work hierarchy.  The traditional patterns of men’s and women’s jobs was still prevailing, with about 70 per cent of women working in the service sector. 

Women’s average wages had been approximately one quarter less than those of their male counterparts.  The effect of different wage systems, the criteria for assessing components of payments and job evaluation and conditions in collective agreements had not yet been analyzed from the gender standpoint.  At the same time, an amendment to the Wages Act guaranteed equal pay for equal work for men and women.  In cases of discrimination, workers had the right to file a compensation claim. 

Recently, the country had witnessed an increase in part-time employment which was more characteristic for women, who made up approximately two thirds of all part-time workers.  Women had also started to seek employment in the informal sector, where they were underpaid and lacked social security.  The first step towards solving that problem was an introduction of personalized social tax.  Together with the Tax Board and the police authorities, the Labour Inspectorate carried out supervision visits to private companies.  The Government was taking measures to increase women’s employability, create jobs and equal opportunities for men and women.  There were also several smaller-scale foreign-funded projects for rural women. 

She said that the health of Estonian women and children had improved significantly not only because of better-quality medical care, but also because women took better care of themselves during pregnancy.  Information concerning reproductive health had become more available.  One of the aims of a recently launched reproductive health programme was to achieve a decline in the prenatal, infant and maternal mortality rates.  Women’s reproductive rights were protected by the Termination of Pregnancy and Sterilization Act.  Although the number of abortions was still high, in 2000, it was lower than the number of births (98 abortions to 100 births).  Several educational programmes had produced positive results in that respect. 

The Government had also developed an HIV/AIDS prevention plan and taken steps to change attitudes towards the roles of mothers and fathers in the family.  Social benefits were now paid to the person actually raising the child -– not necessarily the mother.  A father of a newborn baby was entitled to an additional 14-day leave.  More favourable conditions had been stipulated for the parents’ vacations. 

In conclusion, she said that important measures to prevent violence against women had been taken following the submission of the country’s reports.  Among other efforts was a large-scale project to merge the activities of the police and civil society to prevent violence and provide assistance to the victims.  The matter was receiving attention in the press, and several manuals had been published, including a manual for the victims of violence.  The national plan foresaw work among the major objectives of raising public awareness of the matter, improving national legislation, raising the capacity of the police, introducing the victim-centred approach and increasing inter-agency cooperation.

Comments by Experts

Committee Chairperson Charlotte Abaka (Ghana) commended the Government for providing a comprehensive report and for sending such a large delegation all the way from Estonia.  The report, however, only partially complied with the Committee’s general guidelines regarding form, content and date.  The purpose of guidelines was to help both the Committee and State parties to obtain a complete picture of progress made regarding the situation of women.  The report should contain two parts.  The first part should contain information about the land and its people, including ethnic groups and minorities.  Some of those issues were addressed under the specific articles of the Convention. 

She commended Estonia for ratifying the Convention soon after regaining its independence in 1991.  She also approved the Convention’s primacy over domestic legislation.  While recognizing the problems Estonia faced as a result of its political and economic transformation, it was regrettable that the initial report had been delayed for some 10 years.  It was crucial that human rights education, especially in transitional periods, should be used as a tool for social and political transformation to achieve equality between men and women in a just society. 

She also noted that Estonia’s report did not mention the Committee’s 24 general recommendations, which were basically an expanded interpretation of the Articles of the Convention. 

In the ensuing debate, speakers joined in congratulating the Government for presenting its report and encouraged Estonia to submit its next report on time.  Experts also stressed the need for the Estonian people to be made aware of the Convention’s provisions.

One expert asked why it had taken four years to publish the Convention.  Was the purpose of the legal information centre for human rights to promote the Convention, and did it include a gender dimension?  Had a unit been set up within the Government to handle reporting obligations?  What was being done to educate the public about the Convention?  The next step after adopting legislation was to educate the public so that genuine implementation could take place. 

Another expert noted that Estonian domestic law did not contain a clear definition of discrimination.

Regarding the draft gender equality law, one expert wanted to know how difficult it would be for Parliament to adopt that law.  The Committee had been told that the law was in Parliament for adoption.  She hoped it would be adopted in the near future as it would substantiate many of the policies highlighted in the report.

Also, did the Government plan to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention and amendments to Article 20.1?

On the question of sexual stereotyping in advertising, a speaker asked if complaints had been received.  Apart from the blatant misuse of women in advertising, the more subtle ways of discriminating against women must be considered.

On rape, one expert said that the definition contained in the report seemed restrictive and did not cover a range of acts of sexual violence.  In many countries, once the age of sexual consent was determined, intercourse under that age was considered rape.

Another expert congratulated Estonia for giving international law priority over domestic law.  She had noticed, however, a shortcoming on the national education of women.  Greater emphasis regarding national education and assistance to women was needed.  International and national NGOs could help in this regard. Did the draft law take into account the definition of discrimination?  Did new draft legislation stipulate a definition of violence against women?  Were there any draft laws to make sanctions for violence against women more severe?

One expert said that as women outnumbered men in Estonia, legislation was needed to take into account widows’ pensions and indemnities for divorced women.

Speakers welcomed initiatives for new legislation, including the Gender Equality Act.  They hoped it would soon pass and would contain a clear definition of discrimination in accordance with the Convention.  They were pleased to see that international treaties took priority over national legislation.  Had the Convention been invoked in national courts?  What efforts had been made to raise the awareness of the judiciary on the Convention?  A public awareness campaign was needed for women to understand how the law could be applied.  Unless there was publicity about the role of the Legal Chancellor/Ombudsman, cases would not be filed.

Another expert asked for more information on the budget and staff for the national machinery, namely the Equality Bureau.  To what extent had the Women’s Research Institute been funded by the Government?  How effective had the Gender Equality Bureau been in evaluating the implementation of Estonian laws on gender equality?  How was gender equality progressing in Estonia?  She did not see a programme for gender mainstreaming, and gender budgeting was not mentioned.  Were there plans for an integrated national plan of action to meet the Convention’s standards?  The report had not mentioned general recommendations.

Another expert stressed the need for an elevated level of national machinery.  How much priority had been given to goals for women within the national plan?  The issue of violence against women should be included as one of the top priority areas in the national plan of action for women.

Turning to temporary special measures, one expert said that implementation of those measures was important for women to overcome past disadvantages.  Training efforts would fall into that category.  Given the persistence of gender stereotypes, the current level of outreach was insufficient.  In negotiations between trade unions and employers, trade unions could introduce temporary special

measures into bargaining packages.  Quotas for women in public bodies and political parties would also be good.

It was also pointed out that the country’s courts were under-used as far as cases of gender discrimination were concerned.  Among the reasons for such a situation could be lack of knowledge or the cost of legal action.  Had the country contemplated giving free legal aid to women being discriminated against?

Regarding measures to overcome traditional gender stereotypes, a speaker said that this was one of her main concerns regarding the implementation of the Convention in Estonia.  Article 5 of the Convention required the State party to change the patriarchal stereotypes.  While much had been done by Estonia, it was important to have a comprehensive strategy to address prevailing attitudes, as well as their long-term effect on future generations.  

A number of provisions were needed, she added, including legal and institutional ones, which the country already had.  It was also important to develop cooperation between the Government and NGOs.  It was essential to create a conceptual framework to translate the Convention’s legal provisions into policies and action.  The country also needed to conduct studies of the situation to provide not only quantitative but also qualitative analysis of the situation.  Development of professional expertise on gender matters was of great importance.

A speaker welcomed the presence of women in important decision-making positions in Estonia, saying that such a situation also represented a means of shattering stereotypes. 

Another speaker noted that the comment in the report about the revival of traditional roles was particularly disturbing.  The report gave little information on measures to overcome the traditional stereotypes “on all fronts”.

Several experts said that from the report, it was clear that despite their high level of education, women still played a subordinate role within the family and society in Estonia.  It was important to address such discrimination at an early age.  Had school textbooks been reviewed to remove gender stereotypes from them?  What was being done to change media attitudes? 

It was also discouraging to have read in the report that recent research had shown that people with higher education had a negative attitude towards women in politics.  What measures were being taken to change those opinions?  Questions were also asked about the civic education programmes within the educational sector to promote women’s participation in the political life of the country and increase the proportion of women elected to executive positions within the municipalities.

Trafficking in women also seemed to be a problem, an expert said.  The police of several Scandinavian countries were cooperating to return the women and girls involved to their countries of origin.  What was done to address their problems?  Another speaker wanted to know what the Government was doing to stop the trafficking.

One expert congratulated Estonia for the fact that five out of 14 Government ministers were women and suggested that Estonia consider a programme similar to one used in Sweden to coach female ministers on issues of substantive equality.  Regarding women’s organizations, was there a formal procedure for them to be heard when draft legislation was being prepared?  Were they partners in civil society and did they have a voice when legislation was being drafted?  Would the Baltic Sea Women’s Conference be used to promote the Convention as a living human rights document for women?  Also, would the Conference raise awareness of the need to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention and the amendment to Article 20?

Another expert asked for more information regarding the five women ministers, saying that the report failed to include data on women’s political participation.  Was the electoral system positive in promoting women?  Were measures being considered to ensure the increased participation of women in Parliament?

Turning to the issue of nationality, one expert asked for explanation on the procedure to acquire Estonian citizenship.  She also asked for more information on Stateless persons living in Estonia.  The report referred to the problems of mixed marraiges.  What were the problems of mixed marriages?  How were minorities being dealt with, which rights were they entitled to and how were they being integrated into Estonian life?

Another expert also expressed concern about women without Estonian citizenship, which seemed to pertain to women with Russian nationality.  Was there a difference in numbers between men and women without Estonian citizenship or identified as Stateless?  Did language courses in the Estonian language -- required for citizenship -- take into account the life circumstances of women?  Did women access language courses in the same numbers as men or was there a hidden mechanism of discrimination?  What would be the impact of Statelessness for women and children?  What would Estonia do to help them achieve citizenship?

It seemed that Estonian women were serious about education, far outpacing their male counterparts, one expert noted.  Stereotyping still existed, however.  There did not appear to be curriculum reform to do away with stereotyping in education.  What incentives did Estonia provide for women to pursue non-traditional courses?  Did high literacy rates refer to functional or general literacy?

Another expert congratulated Estonia on its high level of education and literacy, a true advantage in any country.  While young women were more educated than men, it was disappointing that the high level of education did not translate into better pay, higher access to political office and better life chances in general.  When combined with the fact that women did not have the will to enter politics, this situation was worrisome.  When people lacked the will to join politics, it reflected a low rate of political efficacy.  Women did not feel they would make a difference if they participated.  As that was not usual among a highly-educated population, some explanation was needed.  Was the education system responsible in some way?  Gender-discriminatory material must be removed from curricula.  In secondary education, students either pursued vocational studies or general secondary education.  Were male and female university graudates considered equally valuable?  Were gender studies fully intergrated into the higher education system?  Were they full-fledged programmes leading to a degree?  Were the courses made part of the curricula of other mainstream programmes?

The report clearly pointed to the heritage of the Soviet era, another speaker said, when women had been forced to carry a double burden of family and public lives.  However, in the market-oriented society, change was needed.  Was the Government concerned about such phenomena as the clustering of women in the service sector?  She was also concerned about women forced out of the labour market as a result of taking

care of children.  Did they receive retraining when they wanted to re-enter the workforce?

On the issue of women’s health, several experts expressed deep concern over the statement in the report that women’s reproductive rights were protected by the Termination of Pregnancy and Sterilization Act.  It was inconceivable that there were 98 abortions for every 100 births.  It was commendable that Estonia was strengthening its reproductive health education programmes and taking measures to raise awareness in that respect.  As far as the Convention was concerned, however, abortion was not a part of women’s reproductive rights. 

An expert said that repeated abortions in many cases were hazardous to women’s health.  Aside from physical complications, frequent termination of pregnancy could entail psychological problems.  It could also lead to infertility.  The report did not provide any information about the frequency of repeated abortions in an average woman’s life.  Abortion should not be used as a form of contraception, and she urged the Government of Estonia to take a serious look at the problem.  Poor women should have free access to contraceptives, the lack of which could further perpetuate poverty if they gave birth to more children than they could cater for.  Also needed was the participation of men in family-planning policies. 

On the same subject, Estonia was commended for its breast-feeding programme.  It was also said that Estonia had not been spared by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the problem of condom availability was important in that respect.  What was the function of the Ministry of Health if, as the report stated, it was NGOs that were involved in prevention efforts?  Another reason more women were needed at the decision-making level was that they could better address women’s needs in the area of health. 

Also raised in the discussion were the problems of the older women, the implementation of strategic goals to deal with the poverty of women, the pension system, the high rates of suicide in Estonia, the remuneration of doctors, the dangers of hospital privatization and the reduction of the number of hospital beds in the country, as well as the incidence of tuberculosis and other communicable diseases.

Experts also asked for more information on the situation of rural women.  A comprehensive approach regarding rural women was needed, one expert said.  Information was also needed on rural women farmers.

Regarding the high number of women judges and prosecutors, experts asked if women entered that profession because it was not well paid.  Did female judges have an opportunity to apply the Convention? 

On family life, one expert noted high divorce rates in Estonia.  Were efforts being made to reconcile spouses?  Because marriage helped to stabilize society, this trend was worrisome.  The economic repercussions for women were also a source of concern.  Another expert noted that marriages of minors were permissible.  Given the need to improve the welfare of the family, and the fact that the Convention did not permit child marriage, she wondered why those provisions existed.  Were there child marriages?

Ms. ABAKA (Ghana), Committee Chairperson, thanked the experts and informed the Committee that the delegation of Estonia would respond to their queries on Tuesday, 29 January.

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For information media. Not an official record.