EXPERTS IN WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE EXPRESS CONCERN AT DECLINE OF WOMEN’S SITUATION IN ALBANIA
EXPERTS IN WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE EXPRESS CONCERN AT DECLINE OF WOMEN’S SITUATION IN ALBANIA
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
594th & 595th Meetings (AM & PM)
EXPERTS IN WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE EXPRESS CONCERN
AT DECLINE OF WOMEN’S SITUATION IN ALBANIA
Concern over the sharp decline in the situation of women in Albania, following its transition to a market economy, was expressed today by experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, as the Committee considered that country's combined initial and second reports on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Introducing the report, Lavdie Ruci, Chairperson of the Committee for Equal Opportunity of Albania, said the decline had affected women's status in the economic, social and political spheres.
According to the 1998 Constitution, she said, men and women had equal rights, and they were afforded equal education. However, there was no equality in the control of resources, opportunities, benefits and representation. Prior to the transition, considerable progress had been made through programmes in a number of important areas, including guaranteed employment, child care and government representation. However, social relations underlying gender differences were ignored.
With the collapse of communism, therefore, women’s participation in various aspects of life had been considerably reduced, she said. Women had also lost more jobs than men during the cultural adjustment process. The abolition of social services had, in addition, re-imposed the full domestic burden on women.
To redress the situation, “gender governance” had become the priority issue for Government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and some donors, following years of focus on economic factors. Greater participation of women in decision making, it was hoped, would lead to progress in all areas.
State machinery established thus far, she said, included the Committee on Women and Family, under the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office. A National Platform on Women’s Advancement promoted women’s participation in decision-making, as well as establishing rights-awareness programs and a micro-finance program for rural women. Work was also being done towards establishing a gender institute within the University of Tirana.
There was, however, still a lot to be done to make women’s rights in Albania practical reality, she said. In particular, challenges remained in influencing the societal attitudes that hindered women’s advancement.
Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee - 1a - WOM/1375
594th & 595th Meetings (AM & PM) 15 January 2003
Following the presentation of the report, Committee experts expressed deep concern over the regression of women's progress in Albania, while realizing the country as a whole had gone through a difficult decade. Many found that the report provided a broad and analytical picture of the problems, without laying out concrete, proactive measures the Government was taking to redress the situation.
It seemed to some experts that violence against women was pervasive. Some noted that there was a resigned attitude, in the report, toward such violence, toward the lack of women’s participation in the political sphere and in regard to social inequality in general.
A major concern was the revival of customary law in the country. An immediate and powerful response by both the Government and civil society was needed to deal with such reactionism at an early stage, one expert said, to prevent further harm to the possibility of women's advancement.
The problem, others suggested was not only attitudinal; there were also problems in the legal system. To some, it appeared women were not able to resort to judicial authority when their rights were violated.
There also seemed to be an assumption in official matters that men were the heads of households, which led to many other implications, including property being only registered in the names of men. In light of indications in the report that Albanian laws were not always compatible with the Convention, experts urged the Government to make a comprehensive review of legislation.
Replies to the experts’ questions and comments will be given by the Albanian delegation on Friday, 24 January.
The Committee will meet again tomorrow, 17 January, at 10 a.m. to hear replies from the delegation of Switzerland to questions and comments posed by experts on Tuesday, 14 January.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) met today to consider the combined initial and second periodic report of Albania (document CEDAW/C/ALB/1-2), submitted in compliance with Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and covering the period 1994-2000.
Despite the legal provisions guaranteeing women's human rights, states the report, women still face serious obstacles regarding decision-making, employment opportunities and access to health care. Also, at present, Albania did not have an official policy aimed at accelerating de facto equality or to employ temporary special measures. The role of Albanian women had always been one of inferiority with respect to men. After the establishment of a democratic system, traditional sexual roles resurfaced due to the poor economic conditions in the country. Women became dependent on their husbands or extended families' support for survival because more women than men lost their jobs due to structural adjustment policies.
Both in the family and in society, the role of men as breadwinners is considered more important that that of women, who are seen more as wives and mothers, the report continues. This traditional division of roles is consistently replicated in the media. Also, while it is common for a married man to have a lover (as an indication of sexual power), women are bound to be faithful.
Domestic violence is still perceived in Albania as a private issue to be dealt with at the family level. Despite a comprehensive set of rules in the Penal Code prohibiting violence, the number of women subject to it is perceived to be high and goes unreported to the police, health authorities and services established for this purpose. The Government does not provide assistance for cases of domestic violence but it has supported women's associations that have established help lines and counseling services. The only safe house for abused women is an NGO operated one in the capital Tirana.
While prostitution is a crime in Albania, there is no provision in the Penal Code for the prosecution of clients of prostitutes, states the report. With the fall of communism and the ensuing problems surrounding transition, Albania has become an origin and transit country for the trafficking of women and girls. Deep poverty and the need to escape had led to the emergence of organized prostitution in the country.
Women's participation in political and public life is low due partly to women's perception of politics as a complex affair, but mainly to cultural attitudes regarding the unsuitability of women for decision-making positions.
The transition period has had a negative impact on health services, according to the report. Government expenditures on health have consistently decreased since 1993. Access to health care is also limited by the ability to pay for the services. Prior to 1995, the health care delivery system was fully financed from the State budget. Now pharmaceutical co-payments and health insurance contributions have been added to under-the-table payments. Regardless of accessibility, the quality of health services is presently inadequate.
While contraception and abortion were illegal during the communist regime, they are now permitted. In 1997, one in every three pregnancies ended in abortion. The fact that the highest rate of abortion is observed among women aged 24-34, who are likely married and with children, confirms that abortion is still being used as a family planning method.
The majority of the Albanian population still live in rural areas (60 per cent) and the living conditions of women in those areas as compared to those of men are very difficult. Also, marriage is more common in rural areas as compared to large cities (10 to 1). The trend among young people is to postpone their marriage, especially in urban areas, which reflected the impact of economic uncertainty and instability in the country.
Before taking up the country report of Albania, MARIA REGINA TAVERAS DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, briefed the Committee on the work of the pre-session working group. The working group had prepared questions for States parties including Canada, Norway, El Salvador, Kenya and Luxembourg. Although the situation was different in those countries, some common trends existed, including the persistence of stereotypes, discrimination in employment, underrepresentation of women in decision-making, violence against women and trafficking in persons.
States parties had indicated that specific policies aimed at promoting equality had been accompanied by the mainstreaming of gender perspectives into policies and programmes, she said. The working group also noted the importance of pursuing multisectoral and systemic policies, as it was clear that legal equality was not sufficient to achieve real equality. Effective implementation of the Convention through legal measures, including special measures, was indispensable.
Introduction of Report
LAVDIE RUCI, Chairperson of the Albanian Committee for Equal Opportunities, said that in the years after the Beijing Conference, there had been a focus, in Albania, on activities to improve the status of women because of a sharp decline in women’s economic, social and political status after the transition to a market economy. Awareness-building on gender equality, and partnership between women’s movements and the State had been important elements of those efforts.
Although men and women had equal rights and education in Albania, she said, there was no equality in the control of resources, opportunities, benefits and representation. To redress the situation, “gender governance” had become the priority issue for the Government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and some donors, following years of focus on economic factors. Greater participation of women in decision making, it was hoped, would lead to progress in all areas.
Prior to Albania’s economic transition, she said, considerable progress was made through programmes in a number of important areas, including education, guaranteed employment, child care, legal guarantees and government representation. However, social relations underlying gender differences were ignored, and women’s roles were re-defined in a top-down manner.
She said that with the collapse of communism, therefore, women’s participation had been considerably reduced, and women had lost more jobs than men during the cultural adjustment process. The unemployment rate was currently
20 per cent for women and 14 per cent for men. The abolition of social services, in addition, had reimposed the full domestic burden on women, limiting their ability to advance.
The Government Programme for the Advancement of Women in Albania, implemented by the State in partnerships with NGOs, had emphasized, initially, the establishment of institutional machinery but had also recognized that there must be a focus on gender equality in all spheres. In addition, strengthening the status of women had been recognized as a necessary step in the development process, requiring the elimination of the gender imbalance in Government and the executive sphere.
The 1998 Constitution, she said, prohibited all discrimination with regard to sex, religion and ethnicity. Following ratification of the CEDAW convention in 1993, however, progress had stalled without mechanisms to ensure equal opportunities for women.
State machinery established thus far, she said, included the State Committee on Women and Family, under the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office. Coordinating its efforts with sectoral ministries, it was charged with the implementation of governmental polices for women and families, the implementation and coordination of programmes to promote gender equality, and support of NGO activities on women and family rights.
She provided a number of figures that illustrated the rapid decline in women’s representation in leadership. There were only nine women among 140 men in parliament, for example, and only three women heads of communes among 306 men.
However, she said, the number of women in public (as opposed to political) decision-making had increased in recent years. In addition, political will existed for mainstreaming gender in government policies and programmes. Two programmes were in place to promote awareness, revise all plans and programmes from a gender perspective and revise textbooks from that perspective.
In addition, she said the National Platform on Women’s Advancement was developed to implement the Beijing Platform for Action, and had been implemented in collaboration with NGOs and the donor community. Achievements to-date included the promotion of women’s participation in decision-making, the establishment of a micro-finance program for rural women as well as rights-awareness programs.
Challenges remained in effective implementation, monitoring and financing for those activities, as well as in influencing societal attitudes which hindered women’s advancement, she said. Positive trends included awareness among the higher levels of political parties of the need for increasing women’s participation, work on establishing a gender institute within the University of Tirana, and efforts to begin equality education at an early age. There was, however, still a lot to be done to make women’s rights a practical reality.
Expert’s Comments and Questions
Committee Chairperson, AYSE FERIDE ACAR, expert from Turkey, welcomed the delegation and thanked it for both the written report and the oral presentation. With Albania’s ratification of the Convention in 1993, the submission of the report had been delayed. Nevertheless, the Committee was pleased to discuss it today. She also noted that that Ms. Ruci’s title had changed from Chairperson of the Committee for Women and the Family to Chairperson of the Committee for Equal Opportunities. She hoped that change would indicate a corresponding change in Albania’s national machinery for women.
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said that both the report and the discussion had been frank, which reflected the fact that Albania was committed to the Convention but that it faced great difficulties. He noted that in Albania, the Convention prevailed over conflicting legislation and that the constitutional court had exclusive jurisdiction in those cases.
How many times had the constitutional court been called upon to determine whether national law conflicted with the Convention? Noting that the constitutional court could not be approached by individuals, had the “Peoples Advocate” ever dealt with the compatibility of laws with CEDAW? He also wanted to know how many times NGOs had brought cases to the court on women’s issues.
He also asked if the term “just discrimination” was a question of translation or whether there had been a case of just discrimination on the basis of sex. He asked if the constitutional court interpreted the Convention so as to include both direct and indirect discrimination. Was the equality principle interpreted to include both formal and substantive equality? He also asked about the involvement of NGOs in the preparation of the report and stressed the need to inform them of the Committee’s consideration of the report.
HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, applauded Albania for having ratified the Convention without reservations. She was pleased with the statistics, but had hoped they would have been more up to date. The Committee realized that Albania had been going through a difficult decade. Although the report provided an analytical picture, it did not address specific Government initiatives to address well-analyzed problems. Were reports written under international human rights instruments discussed in the Cabinet, the Parliament, or Parliamentary Subcommission on Youth and Women?
HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, said the report did not include enough data on the situation of women. She asked whether an office of statistics had collected the data and if so, whether they were aware that data should be disaggregated by sex. She noted that in the report, the masculine pronoun applied to both men and women. In the future, inclusive language should be used. Noting that the Committee for Women and the Family had changed to the Committee for Equal Opportunities in 2001, she wondered why the old name was being used when there was a new national machinery.
DUBRAVKA SIMONVIC, expert from Croatia, asked for information on Albania’s implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, which called for national implementation plans.
FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, asked for an explanation for the country’s late presentation of the report so that the Committee might better be able to understand the difficulties it had faced. Had the Convention been translated into Albanian and disseminated among the population? Was the Albanian media aware that the report was being discussed today? Would the conclusions of today’s meeting be made known to the Albanian population?
KRISZTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, said there was a major difference between legal history and the fight against discrimination in post-communist countries. There had been a wide reaching grass-roots movement of women fighting for their equality. Gender equality was a part of the communist ideology. There was a lack of awareness in State machineries, and even the most progressive political parties did not understand the problem of gender equality. In that regard, it was the Government’s responsibility to raise awareness. The Government should work with NGOs to counterbalance the “top down” effect and raise awareness. What concrete means and forms of Government support did NGOs have in their ongoing work and what was the structure for that cooperation?
Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, noted that the Government had not yet conducted a legal review. That might be one of the most obvious priority tasks for a country that had experienced transition. Were there plans for a legal review? Why had the parliamentary Subcommission on Youth and Women not called for a legal review? Had international human rights law become a mandatory component for study at universities? When would the new family code be adopted? On the penal code, and unfair privileges, was that construction an impediment to the implementation of temporary special measures?
HUGETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, expert from Benin, expressed concern that women did not appear to be able to resort to judicial authority when their rights were violated. The report failed to indicate the levels of authority to which women could have recourse. She also asked for information on the role of the Peoples Advocate. Also, there was a tendency to blame discrimination on actual practice, whereas in reality, the law itself was sometimes discriminatory. The report indicated that Albanian legislation was not always compatible with the Convention. Did the Government intend to take a fresh look at its legislation?
Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked if it was possible for individuals to invoke the Convention before national courts. Were there penalties for gender discrimination, and if so, what were they?
SJAMSIAH ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, asked for an explanation of the evolution of Albania’s national machinery. She said it was important to ensure that the national machinery consisted of networks between governmental and non-governmental entities. The entire Convention must be properly coordinated at the national level. The national machinery must include specific functions, including clearly defined responsibilities, division of labour, legislative reviews, monitoring and reporting.
NAELA GABR, expert from Egypt, welcomed the delegation. It was clear that there was cooperation and coordination with NGOs. She asked about the status of legislation on NGOs and the registration of NGOs. She asked whether they were subsidized.
YOLANDA FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, said that, in the last 12 years, extreme poverty had increased, affecting rural areas in particular. Access to health and employment had become very difficult. Was there a governmental programme to eliminate poverty? She also wanted to know if there were specific projects to assist the most vulnerable women in finding jobs. She asked if single women were given priority in accessing development programmes. The establishment of the “people’s advocate” in 2000 had been a positive step, yet it had not received complaints from women. Had the text of the Convention been sufficiently disseminated?
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, noted that the report continued to refer to the Committee for Family and Women. The association between women and the family reflected a stereotypical view of the role and interests of women. While the same ministry could of course deal with both, when there was a strict linkage, care must be taken not to reinforce limited views. She also expressed concern about a lack of gender mainstreaming. On coordination with NGOs, cooperation with civil society was appropriate, where coordination was not. Had that reference in the report been a matter of translation?
FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, questioned the gap between the legal system and de facto discrimination and how that gap could be overcome. She asked for particular information on the various ministries.
Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked about the working methods of the Committee for Equal Opportunities. She also asked for information on the Committee’s budget and personnel structure. How much power did the Committee have, and did it have autonomy? She also asked about its influence vis-à-vis other ministries.
Ms. GNACADJA, expert from Benin, asked for clarification on the obstacles preventing women’s issues from advancing. Despite the existing structure, there had not been much progress.
Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked if there was a provision regarding temporary special measures to accelerate substantive equality between men and women.
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked why quotas for women’s participation in political parties were abandoned in recent elections. She noted there was also a resigned attitude toward the lack of women’s participation in the political sphere. That same resignation was in evidence regarding many social areas of inequality as well. There seemed to be no proactive measures to accelerate the achievement of equality. What did the Government propose to do toward that goal?
Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, also asked what specific measures had been proposed in those areas. She noted that the situation seemed different in Albania from other countries that had been communist.
Ms. FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, said the code of traditional conduct seemed to be getting more important in recent years, and she asked for details on it. Noting many areas of stereotypical rules, she asked what measures were being envisaged to make the populace more aware of women’s rights in that context.
SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, asked if the problem was really only attitudinal or were there also problems floating around in the legal system. For example, it seemed to be assumed in official matters that men were the heads of households, which led to many other implications, including property being only registered in the names of men. She also asked whether women were aware of the provisions of the Convention, particularly those which called for equal child-rearing responsibilities between men and women. In addition, she asked about women’s participation in the media.
CHRISTINE KAPALATA, expert from the United Republic of Tanzania, said the situation of women in Albania seemed to have regressed. Violence against women seemed to be pervasive, and women did not seem to have much ability to participate in decision-making. The fines for discrimination were a charade. Serious poverty alleviation strategies, geared towards women, needed to be implemented to give them some control over resources. Serious educating on gender issues also must take place.
Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked what concrete measures targeted young people, adults and the media to combat gender stereotypes. In addition, she said it was the Government’s duty to eliminate violence against women, and she recommended looking at recent work of the committee on the issue.
Ms. ACAR, expert from Turkey, said she was familiar, from her country, with the power of customary laws and patriarchal values. A revival of customary law, however, was different, and the Government needed to look carefully into the phenomenon. An immediate and powerful response by both the Government and civil society was needed to deal with such reactionism at an early stage, or else it would increase discrimination. Was anything, indeed, being done?
Ms. POPESCU SANDRU, expert from Romania, said that her country had also gone through problems with its transition from a communist system. There were many social costs such as worsening of prostitution and trafficking in women and children. She asked if there was confusion in the report between victims of the systems of prostitution and the perpetrators. There only seemed to be criminalization of the prostitutes themselves. She also asked for clarification of measures being taken for the social reinsertion of the victims of trafficking, as well as measures being taken to combat HIV/AIDS among prostitutes and victims of trafficking.
AKUA KUENYEHIA, expert from Ghana, asked for additional information on efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in women.
Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, said many women were trafficked to her country from countries such as Albania. When they were returned, it was possible that such women could again fall into the hands of traffickers, or even be arrested. She asked what measures were being taken to prevent such occurrences and to end trafficking.
Ms. GABR, expert from Egypt, said that the matters of violence against women and trafficking were under the direct responsibility of the Government. There were no details on Government action in those matters in the report, and she requested them.
Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, spoke of her country’s transitional experiences and asked for information on specific measures being taken to ensure women’s participation in decision-making.
Ms. ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, addressing women’s participation in political life, asked to what extent Albanian electoral law governed its electoral code. Also, to what extent did the Government support women’s organizations to promote the participation of women in political life? Did the Government promote advocacy to encourage women to enter political life? She also asked for an explanation of problems that might be affecting women’s participation in international representation.
Ms. KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, said it was common among countries in transition to note a sharp decline of women’s participation at the policy-making level. She strongly supported the allocation of seats in parliament to women.
Ms. POPESCU SANDRU, expert from Romania, asked if the Government had specific measures to encourage the balanced sharing of responsibilities between men and women. She asked if religion and customary practices affected the low level of representation of women in public and political life. She also asked for more information on the situation of women entrepreneurs.
Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked for the number and percentage of women working in the foreign services by rank. She also questioned the recruitment procedure for employment in the foreign services.
Ms. POPESCU SANDRU, expert from Romania, asked for information on representation of women in international organizations.
Ms. FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, asked why so many skilled educators had left the educational system. Were there measures to guarantee the right to education and to combat dropping out of school? Did teacher training include the concept of gender equality? Had there been progress in classroom reconstruction and repair?
Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, noted that the report addressed the opening of religious schools, including Muslim schools that did not permit the enrolment of female students. If Muslim girls were not allowed to attend Muslim schools, were they allowed to attend mandatory schools? What was the Government planning to do regarding discriminatory practice of the Muslim community for the education of Muslim girls?
Ms. ACAR, Committee Chairperson and expert from Turkey, asked for statistics on illiteracy, including trends, among women.
Ms. KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, said the labour market had become segregated, with women in softer, low-paying jobs. Was that due to the women’s educational pattern, or was it due to a lack of options for women? She asked the delegation to confirm the information contained in the report on maternity benefits, which, if applied, would put great pressure on the country’s treasury. Were maternity benefits only given to mothers? She asked for further elaboration on women’s employment in the private sector.
Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked for information on budgetary allocations for unemployed women. She also asked for information on the new wage system.
Ms. KUENYEHIA, expert from Ghana, asked, in view of the high unemployment rate among women, if there were plans to retrain women.
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said the report contained contradictory data between qualifications and participation in the labour market. In that regard, she asked for specific information on the real situation in the labour market.
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from The Netherlands, commented on the low participation of women in sports. What did the Albanian Government intend to do to change the stereotypical attitude toward women in sport?
PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said the report lacked an overview of the living conditions of women in impoverished areas. While poverty among women had been increasing in Albania, macroeconomic policies had focused almost exclusively on the formal sector. Did the Government envisage reformulation of its economic policies? Rigidly ascribed gender roles would only amplify the situation for women. Serious efforts must be made to mainstream a gender approach into all economic policies.
Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, expressed serious concern about the situation of rural women facing deteriorating services and conditions. The Committee for Equal Opportunities and the Government should address themselves to rural women unable to receive adequate health care and education. It seemed that their future was being sold out. Living standards and access to education must be improved. The attention of donor agencies and governments must be directed to the needs of rural women.
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from The Netherlands, said that to assure the human rights of women, they must have access to legal recourse. Improving the legal literacy of women would contribute to the attainment of their human rights.
Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked for clarification on women’s rights to inheritance.
Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, commented on the need to equally share financial resources for free legal aid among men and women. She also asked for clarification on women’s domicile rights after marriage. What did the civil court say about the head of household legislation?
Ms. GNACADJA, expert from Benin, asked what distinction was made between mental illness and mental underdevelopment, especially in regard to legal proceedings.
Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, commended the Government for its honest report, especially regarding rural women. She asked for detailed information on specific measures to alleviate their plight and for data on access to free legal aid services and the budget for the legal aid scheme, as well as the rate of criminality among women.
Ms. KUENYEHIA, expert from Ghana, asked how soon the family codes would be revised. She also noted that women wound up with no claim to their house under marriage rules, if the women moved into the husband’s house. She asked what was being done to ensure de facto equality in that case.
Ms. SAIGA, expert from Japan, asked about the process under which the family codes would be reviewed, and what issues were now under discussion. The minimum age of marriage was also a concern.
Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked about any plans for the ratification of the optional protocol of CEDAW.
Response from delegation
Ms. RUCI, head of the Albanian delegation, thanked the experts for their comments and suggestions, and she would reply in depth to them on the day that had been set aside for that purpose.
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