ARMENIAN DELEGATION CITES EARTHQUAKE, BLOCKADE AMONG OBSTACLES TO CONVENTION’S IMPLEMENTATION
ARMENIAN DELEGATION CITES EARTHQUAKE, BLOCKADE AMONG OBSTACLES TO CONVENTION’S IMPLEMENTATION
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
571st and 572nd Meetings (AM & PM)
ARMENIAN DELEGATION CITES EARTHQUAKE, BLOCKADE AMONG OBSTACLES
TO CONVENTION’S IMPLEMENTATION
Committee to Take Up Czech Republic Report Tomorrow
The implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in Armenia was taking longer than anticipated owing to problems arising from the transition period, a devastating earthquake, blockade, and other extremely difficult circumstances, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women heard today, as it began considering that country's second periodic report.
Karine Hakobian, Deputy Minister of Social Security in charge of the Department of Women's Affairs, said one of the most important goals of her Ministry was to eradicate discrimination, a key factor of which was poverty reduction. A major obstacle to women’s participation in political life were financial constraints, a problem that would be addressed by creating new employment opportunities for women and by implementing no-interest microcredit programmes to support entrepreneurship among them.
Marta Ayvazyan, First Secretary, Division of Human Rights and Humanitarian Issues, said that while Armenia had signed and ratified more than 40 international declarations, covenants and conventions directly connected to human rights issues since its independence 10 years ago, trafficking in women was relatively new and there was no specific legislation against it. There were also no specific regulations governing domestic violence, although the criminal code regulated violence against women, in general. Owing to various problems, women in Armenia found themselves in less mobile and, consequently, non-competitive situations in the labour market, and they comprised 66 per cent of the unemployed.
Many Committee experts expressed concern about the lack of legislation regarding trafficking in women, sexual exploitation, marital rape and domestic violence, pointing out that victims of trafficking could find themselves in double jeopardy, being punished for illegal border crossings and having forged documentation forced on them by traffickers. In addition, the fact that penalties for rape were rather low -- three years in prison -- did not send the message that rape was a serious offence.
In closing remarks, the representative of Armenia said that though his country was only 10 years old, it was based on a 4,000-year-old civilization, and
70 years under Soviet rule had “taken a lot from us”. A new statistical service and approach, free of ideology, had yet to be created. The country was learning the best way to gather information.
The Committee comprises 23 experts who serve in their personal capacities. It monitors implementation of the 1980 Convention by its 170 States parties. The treaty's preamble and 30 articles define discrimination against women and set an agenda for national action. The current session of the Committee, due to conclude on 23 August, was convened on an exceptional basis to reduce the backlog of reports submitted by States parties.
Having concluded its consideration of the reports of Mexico and Armenia, the current exceptional session will also consider those of Argentina, Barbados, Czech Republic, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Peru, Uganda and Yemen.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 8 August, to consider the report of the Czech Republic.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) met today to consider the second periodic report of Armenia (document CEDAW/C/ARM/2).
Covering the period 1996 to 1999, the report states that ensuring the full and equal participation of women in the country's political, social, economic and spiritual life is one of the most important prerequisites for building a democratic and socially just State, governed by the rule of law.
Armenia ratified the Convention in 1993 and submitted its initial report in 1996, according to the present report, which contains information about changes affecting the situation of women in Armenia over the reporting period and sets out the major legislative and structural measures adopted since 1996 with the aim of improving that situation and achieving genuine gender equity.
The report details both compliance and obstacles under all 30 articles of the Convention. Under article 6, for example, which concerns the adoption of legislation to suppress all forms of trafficking in women and their exploitation for prostitution, the report notes that the penalty for running brothels is a fine ranging from 300 to 500 times the minimum wage, or restraint of freedom for up to two years, or imprisonment for up to five years.
Noting an increase in prostitution in recent years, which is attributable to the worsening economic situation in the country, the report says that given the traditionally negative attitude towards prostitution and open condemnation of it by society and within the family, that trend is unlikely to continue. No cases of the rape of prostitutes have been reported.
Under article 12, which concerns eliminating discrimination against women in health care, the report finds that while evaluation of women's health in Armenia usually focuses on reproductive issues, a significant number of Armenian women are suffering from chronic and mental illnesses. However, during the last decade, the average life expectancy of women has risen and the mortality rate in all age groups has fallen. Midwifery/gynaecological services are implemented by three national centres; 19 maternity hospitals; 41 maternity/gynaecology wards in city and central district hospitals; 36 independent antenatal clinics; 213 rural out-patient clinics; and 623 secondary midwifery clinics.
The report finds that over the last 10 years, maternal mortality has fallen to a certain extent, but the reduction has taken place very slowly and is still twice the World Health Organization's (WHO) permissible level for Eastern Europe of 15 deaths per 100,000 live births and higher than the permissible level for individual countries of 25 deaths per 100,000.
In 60 to 70 per cent of cases, "it has been possible to prevent maternal mortality by taking appropriate measures", the report states. From 1995 to 1997, significant changes occurred in the pattern of maternal mortality, as those not connected with pregnancy have come to the forefront. This high incidence of exragenital diseases is a measure of the failings of Armenia's health care system as a whole and the unsatisfactory level of professional medical care.
Introduction of Report
MOVSES ABELIAN (Armenia) reminded the Committee members to keep in mind when addressing questions to the Government representatives, that his country was only 10 years old.
KARINE HAKOBIAN, Deputy Minister of Social Security, said the Government had put forth its best efforts to implement the Convention, but despite its work, the realization of its plans was taking longer than anticipated. Ten years were not enough to solve the problems arising from the transition period, a devastating earthquake, blockade, and other extremely difficult circumstances. Armenia’s transition had been painful and the difficulties could be compared only with those of other countries of the former Soviet Union. But, unlike other countries, which had the saving grace of their national resources, Armenia had no such advantage. Despite all that, today the country was slowly recovering.
Since Armenia presented its first report in 1999, it had received questions from and presented written replies to the Committee, she said. The Committee's first recommendation was the establishment of a national machinery for the advancement of women. In May, the Government created the position of Deputy Minister for Women’s Issues in the Ministry of Social Security. The Deputy Minister was authorized to coordinate all women-related activities implemented by other ministries, ensure collaboration with women’s non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and enforce compliance with the provisions of the women’s Convention. The Deputy Minister headed a Department of Women’s Affairs, comprising six specialists who dealt exclusively with women's and gender issues.
Also, she continued, two governmental commissions on women's issues had been established by a Government Decree. The first commission would develop a national programme and plan of action for the improvement of women’s status and the enhancement of their role in society. It would also create mechanisms to implement that plan. Non-governmental organizations, which had traditionally worked in close collaboration with government entities, now had the opportunity to be more directly involved in bringing their projects to the Government’s attention, as well as designing and implementing programmes.
One good example of such collaboration was a 2002 programme called the “Ororots” or “Cradle” programme, which supported vulnerable pregnant women and newborn children, she said. It was implemented by the Ministry and several NGOs. It was crucial now to pay utmost attention to mothers in Armenia because the maternal mortality rate, which was 32 per 100,000 births between 1995 and 1997, had increased to 42 per 100,000 from 1998 to 2000. That rate was four to five times greater than those of Western European countries. To address that, the Ministries of Health and Social Security, as well as NGOs, were planning to implement additional projects aimed at improving conditions in maternity wards. The second commission dealt with the trafficking of women, for which a plan of action was being developed.
Turning to the political representation of women and their participation in decision-making positions, she said there was no law in Armenia hindering women’s participation in elections for the National Assembly, and a small number of women had participated successfully. In order to encourage their greater participation, an environment was needed that would allow women to succeed, unhindered by any social, cultural on psychological barriers. The new Department of Women’s Affairs, in collaboration with women’s organizations, was planning to increase women’s involvement, not only in political life, but also in environmental protection, women’s rights education, and women’s health and employment issues.
She said that a major obstacle to women’s participation in political life were financial constraints. In concrete terms, the Ministry of Social Security planned to address that issue by creating new employment opportunities for women. The State would implement special no-interest microcredit programmes in both urban and rural areas to support women’s entrepreneurship, as well as additional programmes to promote activities in small and medium-sized businesses. To allow women to work and care for their families, the Ministry would increase financing for State-operated day-care facilities. Adequate childcare could be instrumental in eliminating discrimination in employment.
One of the most important goals of the Ministry of Social Security was to eradicate discrimination, for which poverty reduction was key, she said. In the last few years, the gap between rich and poor had grown, and poverty was directly related to women’s rights. The “Poverty Reduction Strategy” programme had been presented to the public for discussion.
The assistance of international organizations was also highly appreciated as it had been helpful in overcoming the challenges of recent years. The Government wished to accelerate collaboration with international organizations, and through the Poverty Reduction Strategy process, Government authorities were convinced that the United Nations Office in Armenia would work more closely with the relevant ministries and agencies.
MARTA AYVAZYAN, First Secretary, Division of Human Rights and Humanitarian Issues, continuing the introduction of the country report, said Armenia had signed and ratified more than 40 international declarations, covenants and conventions directly connected to human rights issues. Immediately after its accession to the Council of Europe, the President had issued a decree on necessary measures aimed at fulfilling the country’s obligations and envisaging the harmonization of legislation in that regard. A working group had already presented a package of proposed legal reforms and improvements for consideration by the appropriate authorities.
Presenting recent developments influencing the overall human rights situation that had not been reflected in the written report, she said it was essential that anti-trafficking measures take account of the wide range of actors involved and address the entire cycle, including, first and foremost, improving the information base. That would also involve: ensuring an appropriate legal framework and an adequate law enforcement response of the national level; protecting and supporting trafficked persons; improving cooperation and coordination between countries; and identifying and responding to those facts that increased vulnerability to trafficking and sustained demand.
As a comparatively new phenomenon in Armenia, trafficking in women was not directly addressed in the legislation and there were no domestic laws explicitly outlawing it, she said. Certain components, however, including illegal border crossing and the preparation of forged documents, were punishable under current legislation. In addition, illegal entrepreneurial activities without State registration or license were punishable by fines or imprisonment. Realizing the seriousness of the issue and the sharp need to initiate immediate actions to prevent and combat trafficking in women, the Government had recently formed a special inter-ministerial working group to elaborate action programmes and propose the necessary legislative reforms or amendments. In order to raise public awareness about trafficking, television programmes, articles and propaganda campaigns had been organized by NGOs and the Government.
She said that very often trafficking was committed under the cover of labour migration, the root causes of which lay in the economic and social difficulties in the countries of origin and in the promising image of the countries of destination. Persons living in developing countries or countries in transition who wished to migrate for work frequently became victims of trafficking. In March, the State Department for Migration and Refugees established a Migrants Service Point, which was becoming a useful and effective tool in implementing trafficking prevention programmes. The Service had information about job opportunities in foreign counties; that provided consultation on legal conditions and guaranteed safe and secure labour migration.
Although there were no specific regulations on domestic violence, the Criminal Code regulated acts of violence against women in general, she said. While reported rates of crimes against women were very low, it was generally acknowledged that under-reporting was due to the desire to keep the family together for the sake of the children, financial dependence, or simple fear of public opinion. In addition to the social and economic conditions preventing reporting and prosecuting domestic violence claims in Armenia, attitudes toward violence showed that large numbers of both women and men thought there were certain situations in which a man was justified in beating his wife.
Also, she went on, the legal system as a whole was not trusted in Armenia and consequently, was not widely used. The reason for that public attitude was two-fold: psychologically, it was due to the negative historical experience; and practically, it was due to the low level of legal education/knowledge among the people and corruption among law enforcement and other authorities. In that respect, the Joint Working Group on Anti-Corruption, established in January
2001, in consultation with State, civil society and international partners, had elaborated a comprehensive medium-term anti-corruption strategy and detailed action plan.
She said that, according to data from March, 66 per cent of the
135,573 unemployed in Armenia were women. Analyses of the labour market recognized the incompatibility between the demand and offers, on one hand and the increase of tension in that sphere on the other. The special activities focused on the development of small and medium-sized businesses undertaken before 2002 had been ineffective, having no impact on reducing unemployment. Within the scope of those programmes, some 300 women had received financial assistance, she added.
The transition of Armenia to a market economy had not been a gradual process but a chaotic one, she said. Its impact on the State economy had been catastrophic. Global restructuring of the economy, the collapse of traditional industrial ties and the closure of enterprises had resulted in mass unemployment, migration and drastic impoverishment of the population. Armenia, with its 98 to 99 per cent literacy rate, had a poverty rate of about 55 per cent. In 1999, the distribution of its population by poverty indicators was as follows: non-poor,
45 per cent; poor, 27 per cent; and very poor, 28 per cent. In order to improve the situation, the Government had initiated the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper in 2000, which attached great importance to the links between education, poverty and economic activity from the perspective of economic growth and poverty reduction.
She said that owing to various problems, women in Armenia found themselves in less mobile and, consequently, non-competitive situations in the labour market. That had decreased their standards of living, created vulnerable groups (mainly single mothers), and caused increases in the numbers within those groups. Currently, social security benefits had been reduced to the minimum for such categories as single mothers, mothers with more than one child and the disabled. The existing poverty family benefit system had not involved all vulnerable groups. The situation was further aggravated because the vulnerability assessment formula was being reconsidered, which would undoubtedly eliminate the eligibility of many needy families for the State security system.
Regarding the health care sphere, she noted that under a Government resolution of 2001, free medical services would be provided only to families registered in the poverty family benefit system, to children of families with numerous children, to disabled children, and to children of single mothers. The children of “ordinary” families could count on free medical care only in the following cases: in-patient conditions under the age of three; and outpatient conditions under the age of seven. A mother could receive free health care only under specific conditions, such as if she was disabled or a member of the family of a deceased soldier.
Comments and Questions by Experts
CHARLOTTE ABAKA (Ghana), Chairperson of the Committee, taking note that the country was only 10 years old, said that was the best age to implement human rights standards. The Committee was looking forward to a friendly and constructive dialogue.
IVANKA CORTI, expert from Italy, said the country had a “glorious history” of women, who constituted the most educated part of the population with enormous potential for the progress of Armenia. She asked if NGOs had participated in the drafting of the report. Why had the Human Rights Commission not dealt with any cases of discrimination against women? She also was not clear about the status of marital rape and domestic violence.
She said that despite the country's difficult economic situation, putting women in decision-making posts would not cost any money. She noted the absence of an assessment of the results from different programmes and plans, as well as the lack of mechanisms to evaluate the increasing problems of prostitution and increasing violence. Regarding the social and cultural patterns leading to discrimination and stereotyping, she said there was a need for a proactive policy. On health, she said it was unacceptable that the health budget would be drastically cut.
FRANCOISE GASPARD, expert from France, sought more information about the mechanisms to combat discrimination. It was important that Parliament had been consulted for the second report as its 95 per cent male majority needed to be aware of the Convention. However, it was also important to consult with NGOs, which were particularly active in women’s affairs. Regarding trafficking in human beings and sexual exploitation of women, she noted that Armenia had not ratified the Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings.
FERIDE ACAR, expert from Turkey, said the country had had a period of high women’s participation in national affairs, but war and natural disasters had brought a change in that. Unfortunately, all structural changes had reinforced a patriarchal mentality and had put women in a more disadvantageous position. Despite a strong egalitarian legal framework, women still seemed to internalize that patriarchal mentality, accepting and perpetuating the patriarchal stereotypes. So long as that cultural environment was not confronted head-on, change would be painfully and unacceptably slow. She was disappointed with the answers given to questions on stereotyping and asked for more information.
YOLANDA FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, asked for more information about the national mechanism dealing with women's problems. Was it a department, and if so, did it answer to another department? Had an assessment been made of the results achieved by the various committees? She emphasized the need to encourage education, which would transform stereotypes. She also asked whether there were specific programmes for women in the national poverty reduction strategy and whether the commission created to deal with trafficking was part of the Commission for Women.
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, expressed concern that the delegation did not see any reason for supplementary legislation in the criminal code regarding violence against women. She asked whether the Deputy Minister for Women’s Affairs was responsible for coordinating the two commissions mentioned and expressed concern about the lack of any policy to address gender stereotyping. The role of men had not been addressed in the report and there could be no change in women’s rights without change in men’s duty. She wondered whether condemnation by society could stem the increase of prostitution as implied by the delegation.
Ms. HAKOBIAN, addressing questions about domestic violence, said it existed in Armenia as in other countries, but Armenians were reluctant to talk about it seeing it as a family, and not a societal, problem. Yet, openness about the problem would help Armenians see society as one family.
Ms. AYVAZYAN, responding to a question about how the reports were prepared, specifically about cooperation with NGOs, said experts had been identified in all the relevant ministries, with each preparing his or her part. Usually, NGOs were invited to participate either directly or through review of a draft copy of the report. In 1999, when the report was presented, one NGO had been coordinating the work of many others.
She said that no complaints of discrimination against women had ever been formally lodged in Armenia. The mentality of the population was one of distrust and the Government was trying to overcome that problem through educational programmes and the dissemination of information about human rights. Several pamphlets had been disseminated and a video covering issues of prostitution and trafficking had been distributed. Special courses on human rights had been introduced in six universities. In planning the next year’s work, authorities were including in their project proposals appropriate articles on improving the educational system and disseminating information on human rights.
Concerning rape and other forms of violence against women, she said there were no specific articles in legislation on marital rape, which was, however, a crime covered under several articles. Regarding improvements, some spheres should be improved, including trafficking in human beings. Proposals to amend the draft of the new criminal code were under consideration, but it was premature to discuss them. There was no intention presently to introduce new laws on marital rape and attempts were being made to address such problems through a psychological approach.
On the question of women’s involvement in political decision-making, she said the Department of Women’s Issues was responsible for drafting a national plan of action. A special working group would be set up, which would include all the relevant authorities. A time frame for implementing the national plan of action would also be set up.
In response to questions concerning the previous plan of action, she said she would provide a written assessment of its effectiveness to the Committee. As reflected in the report, the previous programme had been halted due to problems among the implementing partners.
Responding to questions about trafficking, she said one commission would be charged with combating trafficking in women and children. A working group would also be set up to deal with trafficking within the framework of transnational organized crime. Its work would include law enforcement bodies, either directly or indirectly involved in the process and its members would propose amendments to the criminal code on the issue of trafficking of human beings.
Regarding poverty, she drew attention to a recent survey, which had shown the need to transform certain spheres, including through education. At present, no specific projects were aimed at improving women’s situation in particular, but the overall programme to eradicate poverty included such questions as a gender aggregated approach and the needs of various vulnerable groups. It was premature to prejudge the possible outcome of that project.
On questions about stereotyping, she said recent surveys had shown that women were becoming breadwinners in many spheres, but stereotypes continued to hinder their more active involvement in politics or their representation in decision-making. The Government was experiencing shortfalls in human and financial resources, limiting its ability to take immediate measures.
Ms. Hakobian added that no law prohibited women from participating in decision-making, but it was too difficult for them to do so, owing to financial and other personal constraints. There were only three famous businesswomen in the country. Clearly, there was a connection between discrimination and participation in decision-making posts.
Comments and Questions by Experts
SAVITRI GOONESEKERE, expert from Sri Lanka, stressing the importance of constitutional and legal reform, said the law impacted heavily on the lives of women, but a supportive framework was also necessary to make a change in reality. Referring to the absence of complaints about discrimination, she said it was unusual to have government participation in that Commission, as was the case in Armenia. The Commission seemed to be a mere channel for sending complaints to courts. That kind of procedure was a disincentive to file complaints. The fact that rape was punishable by three years, or five in the case of gang rape or rape of a minor, did not send the message that those offences were serious. The penalties should be reconsidered, she said.
AIDA GONZALEZ, expert from Mexico, was concerned that many of the Committee's questions had not been answered. There was no provision in the criminal code for domestic violence or prostitution and shortage of complaints about violence against women did not mean it did not take place. The Deputy Minister had even said it had become accepted that men could beat women. There was a need to correct the situation. If discrimination of women was acceptable within the family, discrimination would become acceptable in society. She asked for the exact content of an article in the penal code regarding sexual exploitation.
FRANCES LIVINGSTONE RADAY, expert from Israel, noting the lack of women’s rights cases in the Human Rights Commission, said that could be attributed to social and psychological factors, but wondered if the legal system provided the proper framework for women to seek redress in court. Other than in the field of maternity and pregnancy, there was no specific anti-discrimination legislation. Prohibiting discrimination in a positive way would make a strong statement, which could help to combat the stereotyping of women's roles. More focused anti-discrimination legislation might empower women to bring cases to court, she added.
Noting that the low level of political representation of women was upsetting in view of Armenia's history of women’s equality and women’s high educational and professional achievements, she asked whether a revision of the quota system had been considered. She also sought more data on prosecution and sentencing for prostitution.
ROSARIA MANALO, expert from the Philippines, pointed out that trafficking in women often took place under the heading of labour migration, saying that was a result of poorly managed migration. As Armenia had no specific laws dealing with trafficking so that the crime could be dealt with under other provisions, the victim would bear a double burden, such as being punished for illegal border crossing and having forged papers provided by the trafficker. It was therefore necessary to enact a law to protect the victims of traffickers. She also sought a clarification regarding the relationship between the national machinery and NGOs.
FATIMA KWAKU, expert from Nigeria, asked how many members of the Commission of Human Rights were women, if there was a quota, and whether there were regional outlets accessible for women. Was the Commission funded by the Government, and if so, were the funds adequate? Was outside funding allowed? Since the Commission had not received any complaints about violation of women’s rights, was the Commission given enough publicity?. She asked.
CHRISTINE KAPALATA, expert from the United Republic of Tanzania, said that the attitude regarding prostitution resembled that of ostriches sticking their head in the sand, thinking that the problem would go away. Given the geographical position of Armenia and its economic situation, she saw no end to the problem of prostitution. In addition, poverty reduction strategies were not targeting women,
and if women were not empowered, one had no right to expect prostitution to go away.
HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, said that what made a difference in the life of women in difficult economic situations was strong political will to back the commitment of the person in charge of the national machinery for women. She suggested that the Deputy Minister demand more money, more personnel and more power for her position, and use wisely the Convention, as well as the general recommendations, to pursue her determination.
She asked if there were plans for legislation to supplement the constitutional guarantee of equality, legislation to address violence against women and trafficking, and legislation on employment. Such legislation was necessary for providing assistance to women who were victims of sexual assault. It was also important to establish a women-friendly complaint centre where women could file their complaints. Was the national plan of action for women an integral part of the whole country’s plan of action? she asked.
SJAMSIAH ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, emphasized the need to reassess the composition and function of the Human Rights Commission. Did the lack of complaints mean that women did not know their rights, or was it due to the absence of channels for complaints? She hoped that in the future, the Department would be charged with policy for women only, as the role of women outside the family should be addressed as well. The national machinery should also emphasize the importance of monitoring progress achieved regarding the Convention in all areas, which would mean that the Department should be represented in all governmental bodies.
Replying to experts’ questions during this afternoon's meeting, Ms. Hakobian said she would strive to coordinate work on women’s issues, both in the governmental and non-governmental spheres. A collaborative effort and pooling of resources would lead to the creation of more effective programmes.
The functions of her office, she said, would be to: eliminate gender-based vertical and horizontal segregation in the labour market; monitor the gender impact of poverty eradication programmes; support the empowerment of women, raising public awareness of their positive role and contribution at decision-making levels; promoting their role in peace processes and their participation in high-level positions in governmental and appointed bodies and making recommendations to the Government for additional legislation.
She said trafficking and unemployment were related and the creation of new jobs for women would lead to the elimination of trafficking.
Ms. Ayvazyan, responding to questions about the Human Rights Commission, said it was set up in 1998 and was considered a transitional step towards the establishment of an ombudsman. At that point, the Commission would be dissolved. Concerning its composition and the participation of women, there were six women -- two were Government representatives and four from the non-governmental sector. Regarding access to the Commission and general knowledge about it, representatives of the mass media were always present during its discussions. To a further question, she said no separate offices had been set up in the various regions of the country, but the workers travelled around the country and reported on their findings.
Replying to questions on trafficking and migration, she said that the two, although connected, should be differentiated. Migration involved a right to move freely and trafficking was a crime. Concerning existing legal provisions against trafficking and prostitution, Armenia, for the moment, was using a criminal court designed under Soviet rule in 1969. Proposals would be made and many questions would be reconsidered. She would ask the Secretariat to distribute a paper on implementation of the 1998 national plan for the improvement of women’s status.
Ms. Hakobian, replying to a question about the national plan for action on the protection of women, said it would be an integral part of the Government’s overall action plan.
Comments and Questions by Experts
Ms. CORTI, expert from Italy, said participation in the political arena and the decision-making process was one of the most difficult issues. Only by including women at the top political level could women’s issues be handled. It was therefore important to penetrate that field. Although the Constitution allowed for participation and there were no legal obstacles, Armenia had not given women any incentives to enter the political sphere in larger numbers. There were many NGOs in which women were very active, and they should be organized to lobby for candidates.
FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, asked for concrete ideas regarding political participation.
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, noted the lack of data on participation of women in such sectors as health. She asked who had proposed the law allowing for at least 5 per cent participation in elections and whether it would be taken up again, since it had had no positive results. She also wanted to know more about an NGO campaign lobbying for a 25 per cent quota in electoral participation. Would the Government support that campaign?
Ms. KAPALATA, expert from the United Republic of Tanzania, said there was virtually nil representation of women in the foreign service and no data available. That seemed to be a sort of “benign neglect”. She pleaded for the application of the Convention's article 4.1, which provides for temporary measures, in order to bring women into the foreign service and the political field.
Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, noted that one of the first female ambassadors in the world was Armenian, saying the country had apparently regressed. It was difficult to promote women’s rights if there were only four representatives in parliament. Such matters as prostitution and domestic violence would not be spontaneously discussed by men if women were not represented. She asked why the Committee’s request for gender-differentiated data on the promotion of women in all ranks of the civil service had not been answered.
Additional Country Responses
Ms. AYVAZYAN, referring to women in politics, said that the introduction of 5 per cent representation in political parties had been a demand of the international community. That had been introduced in Armenia within the framework of human rights, but the results had been less than desirable and a number of problems must be addressed in the coming years. The introduction of a quota system was under discussion, as was the proposal for 25 per cent representation of women.
However, attitudes varied not only within the Government, but also in civil society. Non-governmental organization studies shown a general lack of understanding of the need to introduce a quota system so there was no concrete solution to the problem at present.
Regarding women's participation in the executive branch and in the various ministries, she said they were represented only in the middle and lower echelons. Sometimes, it was very difficult for them to advance, not only due to stereotyping, but also because of social and economic difficulties facing Armenian women today.
There were about 3,000 NGOs registered with the Ministry of Justice and many dealt specifically with women’s issues. The representation of women in that sector of society was very high. The Government was trying to use that potential and was cooperating with NGOs in many spheres.
Mr. ABELIAN (Armenia) took the floor to add that the collapse of the former Soviet Union had seemed to happen overnight. The next day, a foreign service had to be created where none had existed before. Armenia became a member of the United Nations in March 1992. It had not yet achieved a gender balance of 50-50, but of 188 people in the foreign service, 72 were women, and the numbers were growing. He strongly favoured women’s participation in the foreign service of Armenia.
Ms. AYVAZYAN, replying to a further comment about the lack of written responses to written questions, said that was due to the absence of data.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Ms. FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, asked about the level of women's participation in political parties.
Ms. KWAKU, expert from Nigeria, hoped the next report would show the results of current efforts by the Government and NGOs regarding political participation by women.
HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said that as a German she could empathize with the difficulties encountered by Armenia in rebuilding society. In order to create political institutions in which women had a voice, the national machinery had to be strengthened.
Regarding participation in Government, one solution could be the nomination of at least one male and one female candidate for each civil service post. In parliament, women candidates should not be placed at the bottom of the list. Affirmative action, using article 4 of the Convention, which provides for temporary measures, could help to promote women in the administration.
Further Country Response
Ms. AYVAZYAN, noting that it was the role of Government to motivate women to become more active, said she would try to implement appropriate projects. In recent years, there had been several training programmes aimed at increasing women’s participation in political and public life, and she was looking forward to seeing their results.
Additional Comments/Questions by Experts
Ms. CORTI, expert from Italy, said the achievements of Armenian women in the educational field had been “fantastic”. The levels of their involvement in the technical and scientific fields had not yet been attained in Western European countries and, even without the introduction of special temporary measures, Armenian women were entering non-traditional fields. She asked whether there was a widening gap between the rich and the poor with the growing number of private schools.
She noted reliance on article 11, on employment, had led the Government to a generous approach on maternity leave. It seemed, however, that the private sector was not following vacation rules or maternity leave regulations. Was that very positive extended maternity leave counterproductive in terms of women’s empowerment in the labour market? she asked. Sometimes, that had prevented women from being hired in certain businesses. Given the competition in the market economy, certain such measures might have to be reviewed and redirected to the market.
Regarding article 12, she expressed concern about the deteriorating health of Armenia’s female population and the parallel decrease in resources for the provision of health services. Pre- and neo-natal care was still inadequate, for example, and women’s poor nutrition and the cost of care were factors.
What was the Government doing about the high level of abortion? she asked. Were contraceptives available and what was their cost? Why was such a large proportion of educated women turning to multiple abortions? She also expressed concern about the increase in venereal diseases and asked how the Government envisaged halting it.
Further Experts’ Questions
FENG CUI, expert from China, said the report gave inadequate information on rural women, adding that with 120,000 refugees in the rural areas, the challenges for the Government were immense. Discrimination against women in rural areas, including traditional prejudices, had not been touched upon. She asked for more information on access to health and loans for women in rural areas.
Ms. KWAKU, expert from Nigeria, also addressed the absence of measures to enhance the situation of rural women.
Ms. SAIGA, expert from Japan, expressed concern about the fact that the majority of the unemployed were women of over 50 years who had advanced professional skills. There seemed to be no pressure on employers who refused to employ women nearing retirement age, which was a waste of resources and an indication that employers expected employees to be unskilled. It also illustrated stereotyped thinking about the role of women in the work place. She asked if the retirement age was the same for men as for women, and inquired about the average life expectancy in the country.
Ms. KAPALATA, expert from the United Republic of Tanzania, noted that there seemed to be some kind of discrimination against women with children out of wedlock. If that was true, why was it allowed? The report gave the impression that the words refugees and migrants were used interchangeably. What specific plans were there for refugee women? she asked.
Ms. LIVINGSTONE RADAY, expert from Israel, said there was a need for a proactive legislative policy to prevent discrimination in employment. There was no legislation providing the government, NGOs or women with the means to take legal action against discrimination in the public sector.
It seemed that both legislative and government policies reinforced stereotypes of women’s role in the workforce, she said. The sole anti-discrimination provisions addressed pregnancy and maternity leave, and the maternity leave provisions would deter employers from hiring women if they had to pay them, rather than a national insurance. Article 186 of the Labour Code prohibited the employment of pregnant women and mothers of children under two years old for night shifts and overtime. Such a provision should be optional.
There was also a need for sex-segregated data, she said. The report stated that women were paid the same wages as men, but no statistical data were given in that regard. If that were true, Armenia would be the only country in the world where that was the case, she added.
Ms. ABAKA, (Ghana), Committee Chairperson, shared concerns expressed about repeat abortions, saying that in Armenia abortion was one of the most widespread methods of family planning, according to the report. Abortion should, however, never be described as a family-planning method, she said, asking also about the use of both male and female condoms.
Lung cancer was the sixth cause of mortality among women, and female smokers were increasing, according to the report, she noted. But no mention was made of programmes to draw women’s attention to the health hazards of smoking. The report noted a lack of data on drug addiction because it was not widespread. It was important to do research on drug addiction, including alcoholism.
Ms. SCHOPP-SHILLING, expert from Germany, asked the delegation about ratification of the Convention’s Optional Protocol and acceptance of the amendment to article 20 which would allow the Committee more time to meet.
Ms. GONZALEZ, expert from Mexico, sought clarification about a response to the effect that all provisions of the labour code were applicable to the extent that they did not conflict with Armenian legislation as a whole or with the provisions of international treaties signed and ratified by Armenia. She also asked for more information on the figures given regarding contraceptive methods and abortions.
Ms. AYVAZYAN, said the laws on maternity leave were designed for all State and private enterprises, and the private sector had to follow them. An employer could not legally refuse to hire a woman because she was pregnant or taking maternity leave.
She said that a substantial part of a national plan of action on children’s rights referred to maternity and nutrition problems, as well as family care. It envisaged many legislative and administrative changes, and was in the final stages of government approval. A more detailed implementation plan would be designed by a newly created body.
On abortion and the use of contraceptives, she cited prejudice against the use of contraception. There was a new programme to introduce sex education in schools.
Regarding equal pay, she said, a man and woman holding the same job were entitled to the same wages. The problem was that men usually held higher positions, so their wages were higher. The private sector was still being established, so information on wages in the private sector was not yet available. It was not the usual practice to sign contracts, so people were sometimes hired on the basis of informal agreements. Thus, it was very difficult to follow the situation of wages and employment conditions.
She said several programmes were in place to improve living conditions in rural areas, but no programmes specifically targeted to rural women. Regarding joblessness among women aged 50 and older, she said that very often they needed retraining, and that was not always possible. The Government was trying to overcome that problem by introducing some retraining courses, but that was not sufficient. Those questions would be addressed in future programmes, including the poverty-reduction programme, but there was scant concrete information at present.
Concerning refugees, she said, they came mainly from urban areas and were now living in rural areas. Again, that posed a problem of retraining, which was not always possible in the short term. On retirement, she said the laws were not the same for men as for women.
Mr. ABELIAN (Armenia), returning to questions about education, said his country had a 99 per cent education index, under a system designed during the Soviet era. The introduction of new curricula was under way, including sex education, which had been taboo under Soviet rule. In terms of private and public schools, including universities, the task was to create a middle class so that everyone would have a choice. The Government would pay utmost attention to the role of education, as that was a key factor for Armenia’s future.
Given the lack of growth in the population, the shortage of a skilled labour force would be a problem in the next generation, he noted. Turning to questions about drug abuse, he said there were 14,000 registered drug addicts and users, but no precise data on women. There had been an increase in drug use from 1993 to 1998, and the number was still rising. Through a joint drug programme with the United Nations, awareness was growing, but it was not yet at an adequate level. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, drug use had increased among all Eastern European countries, he added.
On refugees, he said the number was over 200,000 with 99 per cent of them ethnic Armenians. There was a reluctance for many years among refugees to accept a new reality and become part of society. For the last two years, however, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had reported the increase in citizenship among refugees, and some 25,000 of them had received passports. Still, many refugees and internally displaced persons did not wish to become integrated.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
Ms. GOONESEKERE, expert from Sri Lanka, remarked that parental rights in some cases could be established by court procedures and asked how that worked in practice. Such procedures could work against women if they did not have access to counselling. Noting that the rights and obligations of spouses under marriage started upon registration, she asked what happened if people did not register.
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said that different ages for marriage was against the Convention and had consequences for women, for instance, in the health area. It also reinforced cultural stereotypes and could lead to an imbalance of power within the marriage.
Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, was also concerned with the different marriage ages, saying it had implication for the continued education of women.
Ms. KWAKU, expert from Nigeria, asked if the new marriage and family code had been adopted and how it would benefit women.
Ms. CORTI, expert from Italy, asked how alimony was assured after divorce, especially in cases where the man migrated.
Final Country Responses
Ms. AYVAZYAN, responding to questions about parental rights and women’s access to the courts, said the principle was equality for all under the law. To raise the question of parental rights, a claim could be submitted to the court and procedures could be followed. However, she had no specific data in that regard.
Regarding marriage, she said that under the law, once a marriage was registered, a woman was fully and legally capable of accessing the courts. Plans for a new family court were still in the early stages and subject to change.
Mr. ABELIAN (Armenia) noted the tremendous difference between the country’s submission of its first periodic report and the second. Reiterating the delegation’s appreciation for the experts’ familiarity with the problems facing countries like Armenia, he said it may be only 10 years old as a country, but it was 4,000 years old as a civilization. Seventy years under Soviet rule had “taken a lot from us”, and a new statistical service and approach, free of ideology, had yet to be created. The country was learning the best way to gather information.
Ms. HAKOBIAN said the Government’s responsibility had grown as a result of today’s meeting. She thanked the Bureau and the experts for their comments and suggestions, which would be very useful.
Chairperson’s Closing Remarks
Ms. ABAKA (Ghana), Committee Chairperson, said the Committee’s aim was to encourage States parties to achieve their goals. Assuring the Armenian delegation of the Committee’s full support, she said she would be pleased to hear from the delegation after it received the Committee’s concluding comments, even before the submission of its next periodic report.
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