FOUNDATIONS FOR GENDER EQUALITY FIRMLY ESTABLISHED IN KYRGYZSTAN, ACCORDING TO WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE
FOUNDATIONS FOR GENDER EQUALITY FIRMLY ESTABLISHED IN KYRGYZSTAN, ACCORDING TO WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
632nd & 633rd Meetings (AM & PM)
FOUNDATIONS FOR GENDER EQUALITY FIRMLY ESTABLISHED IN KYRGYZSTAN,
ACCORDING TO WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE
Experts Call for Full Implementation of Country’s ‘Significant’ Body of Legislation
With the ratification of over 30 international conventions, including the Women’s Convention and its Optional Protocol, and a vast array of domestic legislation, the foundations for gender equality had been firmly established in the first decade of Kyrgyzstan’s independence, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was told, as it considered that country’s report in two meetings today.
The Committee’s 23 expert members, acting in their personal capacities, monitor compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which entered into force in 1981. Kyrgyzstan acceded to the Convention in 1997 and its Optional Protocol, which allows for individual women and groups of women to petition the Committee, in 2002.
Introducing Kyrgyzstan’s report, Aigul Kangeldieva, the Head of the Secretariat of the National Council on Women Affairs, Family, and Gender Issues, said that much was being done to improve the status and rights of Kyrgyz women and achieve gender equality. Despite efforts to implement the Convention and the Beijing Platform for Action, progress was lagging in several areas, including poverty and unemployment, social protection, the low participation of women in decision-making, property ownership, high levels of morbidity among women and stereotypes. Kyrgyz women still had a long way to go on the road to gender equality.
Pointing to the low level of participation of Kyrgyz women in political and public life, Committee experts agreed that, without the political empowerment of women and their increased participation in decision-making, the realization of a truly democratic society would be impossible. “Democracy without women is indeed imperfect”, the expert from France said. She and many other experts encouraged the Government to introduce special temporary measures, such as quotas, to enhance women’s participation in policy-making.
Responding to the expert’s comments on quotas, a member of Kyrgyzstan’s delegation said that while the issue had been broadly discussed in State agencies and academic and public circles, there was no legislation requiring quotas. Acknowledging a degree of ambivalence among the public on the matter, he said that history had had a negative effect on the matter. There had been quotas during the period of Soviet rule. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, women had become convinced that the quotas were “rather decorative”.
Although experts commended the Government for formulating numerous legislative reforms, including a new draft law on gender equality, many expressed concern that gender analysis of discriminatory legislation had not actually improved the situation of Kyrgyz women. Noting that the country’s land laws contained some discriminatory provisions, several experts questioned the promulgation of a new law that allowed the owner of a plot of land to sell property only in its entirety and with a certificate of title.
Given that the husbands alone usually held certificates of title, noted the expert from the Philippines, it was not possible for a woman who separated from her husband to cash out her share of the land or sell or exchange a portion of it.
Among the other issues raised during the Committee’s article-by-article consideration of the Convention’s implementation was the perpetuation of negative stereotypes and harmful traditional practices, such as polygamy and “bride theft”; violence against women; the poor health situation of Kyrgyz women, as reflected by high maternal mortality and anaemia rates; women’s economic disadvantage in the formal sector; and the need to raise public awareness of women’s rights.
Addressing the issue of trafficking in women, the expert from Hungary commended Kyrgyzstan for not putting that issue “in a vacuum”, and encouraged the Government to continue carrying out its “pioneering” activity in the Central Asian region to initiate work against trafficking, prostitution and pornography.
Also on Kyrgyzstan’s delegation were: A. Shagivaliev, Head of Department, General Prosecutor’s Office; K. Koychumanova, Head of Department, National Statistic’s Committee; A. Alysheva, Head of Department, Ministry of Labour;
L. Kourbanova, representative of the non-governmental organization “Diamond Association”; and A. Moldogazieve, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of Kyrgyzstan to the United Nations.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 15 January, to consider the situation of women in Kuwait.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider the situation of women in Kyrgyzstan. Before the Committee was that country’s second periodic report (documents CEDAW/C/KGZ/2 and Add.1), which covers the period from 1999 to 2002. Kyrgyzstan acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1997. In 2002, Kyrgyzstan acceded to the Convention’s Optional Protocol. [The Optional Protocol entitles the Committee to consider petitions from individuals or groups of women who have exhausted national remedies and to conduct inquiries into grave or systematic violations of the Convention.]
The first part of the report provides general information about Kyrgyzstan, including its political and legislative systems. The second part of the report presents information on legislative and administrative measures carried out during the reporting period in compliance with the Convention’s provisions.
In 2001, the average monthly wage of women in Kyrgyzstan was some 67.6 per cent of the average monthly wage of men, and the average level of women’s pensions about 86 per cent of the average level of men’s pensions, the report states. From 1996 to 2000, the level of economic activity fell by about 4.9 per cent among women and 1.9 per cent among men. The economic downturn led to a significant reduction in demand for labour and affected most severely those sectors of the economy employing predominantly women. Unemployment among women is rising steadily, and some 53.3 per cent of the total number of unemployed are women. To support unemployed women, a method of promoting self-employment through a system of credits and microcredits has been widely adopted.
The report notes that while women comprise some 52 per cent of the electorate, they make up only 6.7 per cent of deputies in Kyrgyzstan’s Parliament, the Zhogorku Kenesh. The “pyramid” trend continues with women accounting for 12 per cent of council representatives at the regional level, 13 per cent at the district and municipal level, and 16 per cent at the rural level. In 2001, only two of 12 government ministers were women. Women in senior government posts accounted for 14.7 per cent of the heads of authorities and administrative bodies and about 24.7 per cent of the heads of organizational subdivisions, departments and administrations.
Regarding violence against women, the report notes that, according to an independent study, each year about 4,000 women in Kyrgyzstan become victims of human trafficking. Promising high earnings, “intermediary” companies illegally export women, mostly young and even under age, to other countries where they are subjected to sexual exploitation. At present, there are more than 10 services, including crisis centres and shelters, providing assistance to women victims of violence.
The fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are fully reflected in Kyrgyzstan’s Constitution, which was adopted in 1993, the report continues. By constitutionally enshrining basic human rights and freedoms, Kyrgyzstan has been able to overcome the primacy of the State over the individual -– a characteristic of the former Soviet system. “The successive ratification of over 30 international conventions and protocols on human rights has reinforced the constitutional principle of precedence of international law over domestic law and facilitated a significant widening in the understanding by State and civil society of the concept of “human rights” in the direction of women’s rights and the recognition that these rights are inseparably linked with democracy and law and order”, the report adds.
According to the report, women’s basic rights and interests are laid down in several documents, including the labour code, the family code, the law on State financial assistance, the civil code and the criminal code. Analysis shows that discrimination on the grounds of sex, religion or ethnic background is prohibited in Kyrgyzstan under the Constitution. Legal protection exists for women in the areas of personal life, labour relations and family and social relations, and there is criminal liability for crimes infringing upon the life, health, freedom and dignity of women.
The report goes on to say that at the legislative level, an effective mechanism for observing the principle of equal rights and eliminating overt and covert discrimination on grounds of sex is the gender analysis of legislation, which determines the extent to which international standards and norms guaranteeing gender equality are implemented in domestic legislation. By 2000, eight laws concerning human rights had undergone gender appraisal, as a result of which experts proposed some 80 amendments and recommendations. To date, however, only one amendment to the Criminal Code has been adopted.
A draft law on a human rights representative, or Ombudsman, that would establish a monitoring mechanism for the observance of human rights, including women’s rights, is in the process of being passed, the report states. According to the draft law, one of the Ombudsman’s deputies will be the Ombudsman for Women’s Affairs. In 2001, by a presidential decree, the National Council on Women, Family, and Gender Development was established in Kyrgyzstan under the President, with a working body –- the Secretariat -– forming a subdivision of the President’s administration. The former National Gender Policy Council reporting to the President, which had operated since 1988, and the State Commission for the Family, Women and Youth reporting to the Government since 1996 were abolished.
The National Council is tasked with the coordination of action on implementing a national policy and strategy to achieve gender equality, the report states. Among its other main tasks is the implementation of a national policy on strengthening the family. The National Council is also responsible for monitoring the observance of Kyrgyzstan’s international obligations in the area of gender development, including the Convention, and the preparation of national reports in accordance with those requirements. Its other tasks include the integration of gender perspectives into national policy and strategies; gender analysis of statutory and normative documents; and coordination of the targeted use of budgetary financial resources and foreign investments to implement the State’s gender strategy.
The report adds that at a special hearing of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in April 1999, Kyrgyzstan was named as being among the first 10 States to have successfully fulfilled commitments entered into at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and, it incorporated them as priorities into “Ayalzat”, the national programme for the advancement of women from 1996 to 2000. An evaluation of the results of the national programme in 2001 showed that significant advances had occurred in such areas as developing an institutional mechanism for the advancement of women; improving national legislation in the area of women’s rights, education and health care; reducing violence against women; and providing support for girls and expanding economic opportunities for women, including in rural areas.
At the same time, however, obstacles that hampered progress in the advancement of women included a lack of stability in the institutional mechanism, the lack of continuity in its staffing, inadequate financing of the programme, rising poverty and unemployment among women, and the absence of gender perspectives in politics and popular consciousness. Other impediments included the lack of development of a training system for women leaders and ignorance about the use of gender methodology and of monitoring and appraisal systems in policy analysis.
As a result of the evaluation, a new strategy to achieve gender equality was developed, the report says. The main goal of the new National Plan of Action for Achieving Gender Equality in Kyrgyzstan for 2002-2006 is to secure the full and equal participation of women in political, economic, social and cultural life. The Government is currently focusing on the most pressing issues, namely, improving institutional mechanism, eradicating discrimination against women in employment, reducing poverty among women, improving women’s health, extending their involvement in politics, and reducing all forms of violence against women.
The report notes that a major obstacle to implementation of the principles of gender equality is the low level of awareness among women themselves about their rights and the continuing influence of existing cultural stereotypes in which women are seen as the “upholder of family values”. The practice of passing property and land down the male line continues; the involvement of women in economic activities is not welcomed; and women are gradually being squeezed out of high-income sectors. In the area of banking, insurance and pension provision, for example, while women accounted for some 75 per cent of employees in 1990, they accounted for 54 per cent in 2000.
The gender neutrality of many regulations in national legislation places women at a disadvantage, the report says. A simple declaration of the equality of women’s rights and freedoms and of political commitment is not enough: legislation must be amended; gender-equality mechanisms should be devised; and the impact of negative cultural factors and stereotypes should be reduced. Discriminatory traditions and customs such as bride theft and polygamy continue and are not subject to serious legal prosecution. Every year, bride theft destroys the lives of any girls, who are compelled to marry against their will. Polygamy also continues to occur despite a criminal ban. The situation is complicated by the fact that a significant proportion of the population classify polygamy as one of the “privileges” of the faithful Muslim, even though the majority of the population has an extremely vague idea of the basic tenets and duties of Muslims.
The growth of trafficking in women and children is also a cause for alarm, the report continues. There is no system for tracking the sending of women abroad for illegal trafficking purposes. The principle cause underlying the existence of the problem is the presence of loopholes in the legislative base and in the system of border controls. Contributing factors include the difficult economic situation and high unemployment. Kyrgyzstan has also become a major corridor for illicit drug trafficking from South Asia to Western countries, and organized criminal groups operate in the country, allowing traffickers in people not only to exploit Kyrgyzstan as a transit point in the trafficking of people from countries in East and South Asia, but also as a source of raw material for trafficking in migrants to other countries.
An addendum to the second periodic report (document CEDAW/C/KGZ/2/Add.1), dated May 2003, contains updated information from various government ministries, departments and committees on the implementation of the Convention, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, the State Department for the Development of Entrepreneurship, the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Migration Services under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Introduction of Report
Introducing Kyrgyzstan’s second periodic report, A. KANGELDIEVA, Head of the Secretariat of the National Council on Women Affairs, Family, and Gender Issues, said that Kyrgyzstan had been steadily moving on a democratic path since receiving its sovereignty. It had been implementing a policy to build a socially oriented market economy, which included free trade. Kyrgyzstan had chosen, as its highest public value, the freedom of all people, and the country enjoyed political stability. Under its Constitution, there was “no chance” for Islamic fundamentalists or extremist movements. To implement a transparent democratization process, a 2003 presidential decree established the Council of Democratic Stability.
The second periodic report, submitted in 2002, provided a realistic picture of the implementation of the provisions of the Convention in the country, she said. A major achievement had been the strengthening of legislation and mechanisms to improve the status of women. Kyrgyzstan had signed more than 30 human rights conventions, and in 2002 it had signed the Convention’s Optional Protocol. A national plan for human rights for 2002-2010 had been adopted in 2002, providing for equal protection for women under the law; the collection of statistical data on domestic violence; the prohibition of trafficking in women; and legal services for victims of crime. In 2003, the law on social and legal protection in the area of the family had been adopted. To implement the law, the Secretariat of the National Council had carried out a gender analysis of draft bills and programmes. The law had been adopted thanks to popular support.
Work was also being carried out on the law on social and legal protection from the perspective of domestic violence, she said. To improve the assessment of domestic violence, gender indicators were being defined. A national plan of action to achieve gender equality for 2002-2006 had also been adopted. The plan defined strategic areas of gender equality policy, including the improvement of institutional mechanisms to achieve gender equality; a gender component of economic development; gender aspects of health care; and a decrease in all forms of violence against women. The Government had adopted a range of measures for local agencies and administrations in that regard and had also strengthened national mechanisms in all regions. The Secretariat was carrying out training courses, round tables and conferences to promote awareness on the issue.
The problem of women in positions of decision-making remained a challenge, she said. While women accounted for 52 per cent of voters, they accounted for only 6.7 per cent of parliamentary officials. Two women currently served in the Executive Branch of Government. In 2002, a presidential decree had been adopted to promote the participation of women in government positions. Although there were currently 43 political parties, women were not considered a significant political force, but were seen as objects whose lives needed to be improved through social and development initiatives.
Women accounted for about 43.2 per cent of the total paid labour force, she continued. The traditional structure of the gender division in the economy had been maintained. Work at home was considered a major source of productive labour. Such forms of labour, however, were not included in gross national product (GNP) and were not entitled to pensions and other benefits.
There was compliance with the equal right to education in all areas, she said. Literacy rates were high for both sexes, and from the ages of 15 to 24, the literacy rate was some 99 per cent. A governmental decree in 2002 reaffirmed the national plan of action for education for all. Women and men also had equal access to medical services. Medical services for women were provided through a network of services, from outpatient to highly specialized services. Those services were paid for by State budget, mandatory insurance and patient co-payments. Women received free emergency medical services, including birth and emergency room services.
During the reporting period, there had been an improvement in the legal basis for the protection of mothers and children, she said. While there had been a drop in infant mortality, maternal mortality was still high, and both rates did not comply with international standards. The number of abortions in 2002 was 10.8 per 1,000 women of reproduction age. Abortion was legal and carried out in licensed institutions. As of 2003, some 482 HIV/AIDS individuals had been formally registered.
She said that about 65 per cent of the population lived in rural areas. Special provisions to ensure normal living conditions for women in rural areas did not exist. The national strategy for poverty reduction, however, contained a programme to improve the living conditions of the rural population, including by ensuring sustainable economic growth in villages. Women had equal access to credit, she added.
Gender roles and stereotypes continued to exist, she said. Statistics showed that about 3,297 crimes had been committed against women in 2002. Statistics, however, did not fully reflect the true state of affairs. Crisis centres had received appeals from 5,000 to 6,000 women. In 2002, there was one case of bigamy and 40 cases for persons in under age marriages.
She pointed to growing alarm over trafficking of women and children. A package of measures had been adopted for 2002 to 2005, and a national council had been formed to combat that scourge. In April 2003, the Government had ratified the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime, as well as the Protocol on the illegal importation of migrants. In August 2003, the President had signed a law on the introduction of amendments to certain laws, which portended significant improvements and additions to the content of several laws, including those on trafficking. Also, there was a new drafting in the criminal code on that phenomenon, which provided for a maximum of 20 years imprisonment.
On the whole, she said, efforts were now being undertaken to improve the status and rights of women, aimed at achieving gender equality. Despite much work to implement the Convention and the Beijing Platform for Action, she understood perfectly well that a long road lay ahead. Barriers remained, including in the areas of poverty and unemployment, social protection, the low participation of women in decision-making, property ownership, high levels of morbidity among women poorly informed about their rights, and stereotypical attitudes. In addition, the legislation required improvement.
Statements by Experts
AYSE FERIDE ACAR, Committee Chairperson and expert from Turkey, congratulated the delegation on the report and the Government for having ratified the Optional Protocol in 2001 (that Protocol provides for individual women and groups of women to petition the Committee).
FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, noted the many laws available to ensure gender equality and to prohibit discrimination. Also significant was that a draft law was considered from the standpoint of equality between men and women. It would be useful to have more gender disaggregated statistics in the next report, to provide a clearer picture of discrimination, which was continuing, particularly in the area of employment and pay.
Noting that many laws had been adopted and plans approved to combat gender discrimination, she said that a question remained about to what extent the public was familiar with those. How familiar were the people, particularly women, law enforcement personnel and judges with the new laws? As democracy without women was indeed imperfect, she requested further information on women’s participation in public and political life. She also wanted to know the current situation regarding the debate on quotas in elected bodies.
HEISOO SHIN, Vice-Chairperson and expert from the Republic of Korea, wondered how widely Kyrgyzstan’s ratification of the Convention and the Optional Protocol, as well as 30 other international conventions since the country’s last report, had been publicized. She reiterated the importance of temporary special measures for women, especially in politics. She congratulated the Government for its domestic violence legislation, and asked whether the offenders were punished. Specifically, what happened to the man who beat his wife? Concerning bride theft, it was wrong to use that term, since that act was not theft but abduction and slavery, which was a serious crime. Had there been convictions for those incidences?
KRISZTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, congratulated the delegation for their work in the area of trafficking. The Government had not approached that phenomenon in a vacuum, but had put it in the larger context that there was no way to fight that without addressing prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation of women and children. She strongly encouraged them to keep that attitude and approach, and to carry on with their “pioneering” activity in Central Asia to initiate regional work against such trafficking, prostitution, and pornography and ensure that their principles would guide regional cooperation. It was very important to find the right partner. Thus, it must be ensured that donors providing technical assistance in that very important work shared those same principles and approach.
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, sought some clarifications on the report. She was surprised and very concerned at the consideration of women as “minors”. While speaking about the tasks of the National Commission, it had been noted that that body was monitoring the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and another convention on women’s rights. She asked to which the latter had referred. She also asked if non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had participated in the preparation of the report and whether the recommendations from the last review in 1999 had been considered, disseminated and followed up.
She noted also that the report had recognized that the gender neutrality of the laws placed women at a disadvantage, and that there was an urgent need to conduct gender analysis. Had that been done? she asked. Regarding polygamy, the report had stated that no work was being done. Beside the legal actions being undertaken now, how was that trend being combated, from the point of view of social acceptance and social thinking, and so forth? she asked.
The head of the delegation explained that a popular initiative could be initiated for adoption as law in Parliament. Thus, an action such as the draft law on gender equality had come from the people, which meant that, to a certain extent, some of them were well informed. In addition, NGOs comprised the major group working on that law, and they were carrying out large-scale work in civil society. After adoption of that law, all State agencies took measures to implement the measure and ensure that the population was well informed about it. In particular, in 2003, steps had already been carried out in all regions to raise awareness about the law. Further work was being carried out with law enforcement agencies in all regions. And, in February 2004, a conference would be held for all representatives of law enforcement agencies on further implementation of that law.
Regarding quotas, it was true that there were some contradictory points in the report. That issue had been broadly discussed in State agencies and academic and public circles, but there was no legislation requiring quotas. Part of society, and to some extent an active number of women, were against quotas; women did not want to be officially recognized as requiring that kind of assistance. History had also had a negative impact, as during 70 years of Soviet power, there were 30 per cent quotas, but with collapse of the Soviet Union, women had become convinced that the quotas were “rather decorative”. That was why there was some ambivalence in the country about that issue. Nonetheless, work was being conducted.
In terms of women in finance and audit, some 23 per cent of auditors were women, she noted.
Regarding dissemination of the report, round tables had been held on the first report and comments published in the mass media, she said. A plan had also been drawn up to implement the recommendations from the consideration of the first report.
A first attempt at gender analysis had been undertaken in 1998 as a joint initiative with NGOs, she said. Gender analysis had been carried out on eight laws, and 84 recommendations had been made. Only two recommendations, however, had been implemented as a result of that gender analysis. The Secretariat of the National Council in 2003 had carried out an initiative on the issue of gender analysis of draft laws and programmes. The question was considered at a meeting of the National Council, and recommendations were made to government officials on the amendment of draft bills in the light of gender analysis.
A proposal had also been made for the Ombudsman to conduct gender analysis of legislation, she said. A guideline document for the executive branch contained binding recommendations. A Secretariat commission had also started carrying out gender analysis. For a two-year period, the National Council had committed itself to holding seminars on the methodology for conducting gender analysis.
Addressing the issue of polygamy and bride theft, another representative of the delegation noted that the cases mentioned in the report had already been acted on by the courts. The perpetrators had already been punished. There were various degrees of punishment, depending on the degree of assault and aggression, including restraining orders and court trials for punishable offences.
Regarding the issue of regional cooperation, he said Kyrgyzstan was working on the issues of trafficking in women and children. A recommendation had been made to pool efforts in the area of trafficking in women and children. Work was being done on a convention of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on trafficking in people. The country was receiving international assistance.
On the issue of bride theft and polygamy, he said the figures provided in the report were small and unrealistic. There was a great potential for crime in that area. Law enforcement agencies were not always aware of violations in that area. Also, as the Constitution protected the right to the private life of the individual, direct interference was not allowed, neither by the Constitution or the laws of the Republic.
HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, the expert from Germany, said she was aware it was a great achievement to have a constitution that did not allow for interference into private matters. That could not be understood in such a way that discrimination against women was permitted, however. More legal thinking was needed on the issue. She was impressed by the vast array of legal instruments. Did those instruments contain a definition of indirect discrimination? Was the Government using article 6 of the Convention to instal temporary special measures in the labour market? Was there an over allocation of resources for women in the labour market, given the fact that 54 per cent of unemployed persons were women? She was also concerned about the lack of case law. While it may be too early, she wanted to see greater efforts in the area of legal awareness raising. Could an NGO go to a court on behalf of a woman whose rights had been violated?
NAELA GABR, the expert from Egypt, said the country was adopting the right kind of laws. Some laws were not being used to the maximum, however, perhaps due to a lack of education and the persistence of stereotypes and negative preconceived notions of women. Through cooperation with NGOs, how could stereotypes be changed?
On the question of religion and Islam, how could the Government, through imams, help to ensure a correct understanding of Islam so that women could play their rightful role in society? Was the Government cooperating with the Islamic University to provide a proper picture of Islam?
SALMA KHAN, the expert from Bangladesh, said harmful traditions or practices could not be considered as a part of culture. Polygamy was a violation of the rights of women and should not be considered as a part of culture.
FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, asked for the Government to look into the issue of introducing quotas in political parties.
The definition of hidden gender discrimination was discrimination without direct indication of sex or gender, a representative replied. Non-governmental organizations were very involved in all related areas, and the Government was cooperating with them in preparing its report. The NGOs were also involved in the seminars and round tables of representatives of State agencies. So, there was very broad cooperation.
Regarding cooperation with religious organizations, the representative said it was true that the central television channel 3 had broadcast three programmes that contained a certain religious slant. One of the programmes had raised a question of “a kind of patriarchal renaissance”. The National Council was conducting work with the central Muslim body -- the main spiritual body -- for joint cooperation on various projects, and now, a new project was being carried out for disseminating information on reproductive health and family planning, taking into account the stipulations of Islam.
Another representative said that the question on the payment of unemployment benefits was very pressing and very relevant. Much active work had been done, and one subsequent measure had been the introduction of professional and technical training, as well as the organizing of social and public work and the payment of unemployment benefits. Microcredits for women had been stepped up yearly. By the end of 2002, women had accounted for approximately half the number that had received microcredits within the system of administrative social protection. Such progress was the result of a national strategy for overcoming poverty, which had emphasized unemployment, socialization and microcredit. Concerning technical professionals, programmes were being accelerated, and employment and training were increasing annually.
Suggesting that it was not new that gender stereotypes were tenacious and very difficult to change, a representative said that the issue was at the core of the work of the ministers of education and culture. An analysis had been undertaken to identify difficulties in implementing the national plan of action, and a series of steps had been taken to eliminate stereotypes in the academic sphere. Training programmes were under way for thousands of students, and NGOs were conducting seminars in the academic sphere.
Responding to the questions on polygamy and bride theft, another representative said that the new criminal code, adopted in 1997, had originally excluded any criminal responsibility for bigamy and polygamy. Most of the members of the commission that had compelled the criminal code had been women. When the draft reaching the hearing stage, the women deputies insisted that the code include an article of criminal responsibility for bigamy and polygamy. There had been only three women in the former Parliament, and the men had been obliged to support them, so now that law was in effect in Kyrgyzstan.
As for bride theft, the representative said there had been a lot of theoretical and practical wrangling. In Kyrgyzstan, very often those abductions were staged. In that country of centuries-old traditions, there was a kind of mutual understanding about the “kind of a staged abduction of the bride”, so raising the question of criminal responsibility would be pointless.
Experts’ Questions, Comments
VICTORIA POPESCU SANDRU, Vice-Chairperson and expert from Romania, said that in any democratic society, which Kyrgyzstan was now building, the political empowerment of women and their increased participation in decision-making at all levels were major requirements. Coming from a former socialist country, she knew that the issue of quotas was quite sensitive. Those populations, in general, and women, in particular, were reluctant to being promoted only on the basis of quotas. Women wished to be recognized for their merits and not simply through the mechanism of quotas. Nevertheless, that was a good instrument and it was very important to try to ensure its implementation.
In addition, she said there were some other modalities to encourage women’s higher participation in politics, including the organization of seminars and training; cooperation between women’s groups and political parties and NGOs, in order to sensitize the electorate and increase women’s chances; and the promotion of the issue through the mass media.
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said it was a pity that neither in the list of answers or questions nor the presentation had made any reference to recommendation #23, which related to the cultural framework of values and religious beliefs and men’s failures to share household tasks and the raising of children. On the basis of what he had heard this morning, Kyrgyzstan was no exception. It had also been said that no provision of quotas had existed for the national elections. That seemed to do no justice to the recommendation that States parties to the Convention should identify and implement temporary special measures. He asked why Kyrgyzstan had not sought to impose those and what other measures were being considered to ensure women’s equal participation in nationally elected bodies.
Concerning the role of political parties, he said it had been argued that, in accordance with the Constitution, the State was not entitled to interfere in the activities of political parties. That was fair, but both the report and presentation had indicated that the party system was in its formative stages and not geared towards enhancing the participation of women. The Government should take heed of general recommendation 23, which, among other things, calls on States to encourage political parties to adopt effective measures to overcome women’s obstacle to their full participation in political life. He asked whether the Government would be willing to comply with that recommendation. He also asked why it had been implied in the responses that women’s applications for judgeships would not fare, as well as their male counterparts in the necessary examinations.
A representative replied that external debt was $1.6 billion, and, of course, there were some difficulties flowing from that debt affecting budgetary provisions for gender policy. In fact, budgetary constraints were a main hindrance to ensuring gender equality. Regarding ethnic minorities, everyone was equal under the Constitution. Representation of ethnic groups at decision-making levels was taken into account, but much work remained in that area.
Concerning government subsidies or grants to political parties, the representative said that, given the difficult financial and economic situation in the country, it was not possible for the Government to provide such resources at present.
Responding to a question about how the Government worked with the media, another representative said the National Council was working on a draft law concerning violence against women, which included a provision for relevant training for the media. In 2003, a seminar on the gender aspects of political issues had been convened and attended by 75 media representatives. As the head of the delegation had already said, part of the media was private and not State-run.
The speaker said that, perhaps, the most important aspect of the national plan of action to ensure gender equality was to educate the media about gender sensitivity, and there had been a relevant educational campaign addressed to heads of households. Also, meetings were planned with the media to develop a gender strategy for television, radio and print.
Another representative, replying to a question about women in diplomatic service, said that following independence, most diplomats had been inherited from the Soviet diplomatic staff, and so the higher levels had consisted mostly of men. Today, there was one general consul in Istanbul who was a woman. After independence, the country began training its own diplomatic personnel, including women, and this year a diplomatic academy had been opened.
Responding to a series of questions about nationality, a representative reviewed in detail the relevant legal provisions. In a way, there was an imbalance with respect to the gender of the parents and their legal right to confer nationality on their children, he said.
Concerning the labour code, he said that international law, including the Women’s Convention, was part of domestic legislation in Kyrgyzstan. Where there was conflict between domestic and international legislation, international law took precedence. Regarding the court system, training of judges and law enforce personnel was also being provided. He added that he was aware of the conflicts between domestic and international laws, specifically regarding nationality rights.
A representative said the Government had acceded to the Optional Protocol of the Convention in 2002, and the National Council had held a round table to publicize that, as well as the Convention. That was not enough. The Government would do more to publicize those.
On efforts to end harmful stereotypes and practices, another representative pointed out that the Constitution contained a norm to the effect that traditional practices that were not harmful were supported by the State. If, however, those were contrary to human rights and freedoms and in conflict with a gender approach, then the State would not support them.
Experts’ Questions, Comments
ROSARIO MANALO, expert from the Philippines, said it had been stated that abortion was legal under certain circumstances. Did that continue to be a means of family planning? Also, what concrete measures had been adopted to move women away from that practice, and could representatives please cite statistics, if any, to show that shift?
On the cyanide spill in the region of Kyrgyzstan, what definitive step had been taken by the authorities to prevent a recurrence of similar spills, which adversely affected women’s health and the environment? She also asked what concrete steps had been taken to facilitate recovery from damages after that spill.
Regarding employment, she noted two instances where international financial institutions had attempted to privatize the health sector. Following that, instead of providing employment, there had been a massive dismissal of many medical doctors, mostly women, and of technical medical personnel. How did the Government help those people endure the initial adverse effects of the privatization, and had the situation been brought to the attention of United Nations authorities? she asked.
She also emphasized the need for women to receive equal treatment in land reform. A new law in Kyrgyzstan allowed the owner of a land plot to sell property only in its entirety and with a certificate of title. Given that the husbands alone usually held certificates of title, it was not possible for a woman separated from her husband to cash out her share of the land or sell or exchange a portion of it. That was, in effect, discriminatory to the woman. Also, the fact that only one heir could get land was also discriminatory.
Given the possibility that when a woman separated, she might have to pay a tax, often she “goes indigent”, the expert said. That still made her economically dependent. What was the Government’s intention to redress that situation?
SJAMSIAH ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, said she was still very concerned about formal and public education, and also about the role of the media regarding stereotypes. Stereotypes in education, according to the report, also resulted in stereotypes in employment; those could not be separated. To what extent had a related study from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reflected the role of higher education institutions to eliminate stereotypical attitudes? Unless studies were undertaken that clearly identified the causes of the stereotypes, it would not be possible to evolve a good strategy to eliminate them.
Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said it had been mentioned that the Government was forming gender indicators for domestic violence. To what extent was the health aspect considered in those indicators? She was pleased at the positive response to the amended article 21, which was on Committee reports, but that was not sufficient. The Government needed to ratify it, as ratification by two thirds of the States parties were needed for it to enter into force.
She said was deeply concerned about the impact of the health reform. Did the Government realize that what was happening was indirect discrimination against women, both as health-care providers and beneficiaries?
PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, congratulated the Government on promptly enacting the law on private ownership of land and the privatization of agriculture. Yet, since its enactment in 2001, it had become apparent that the law clearly had not taken into account the gender dimension and implications of its implementation. There were several provisions that impeded the equal enjoyment by women of their land rights. That current practice of land disposition was reinforcing discriminatory traditional practices and negatively affecting women’s economic situation. Thus, what was the Government’s strategy in that regard, and had there been a review of those discriminatory dimensions?
Addressing the issue of health care, Ms. POPESCU SANDRU, the expert from Romania, said health-care reform during a time of transition could be difficult. Inappropriate health and medical care could be a source of discrimination against women, in particular, and the population at large. Specific issues of concern included high rates of maternal and infant mortality, the decline in health-care budgets, high rates of anaemia during pregnancy, underweight girls, and the spread of tuberculosis and sexually transmitted disease. The number of women dependent on alcohol and drugs had increased since the last report, she added.
The expert from Croatia, DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, asked about abortion as a family planning practice. Were husbands or partners allowed to prevent women from having abortions according to the law?
On the issue of employment, Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, the expert from Portugal, asked for more information on the significant gap in wages between men and women. One way to equalize economic opportunities was by granting loans for business initiatives. Men were most often the beneficiaries of those grants. Beside legal provisions, what was the Government doing to increase equality in employment?
Abortion was not by law a method of family planning, a member of Kyrgyzstan’s delegation said. Free medical consultation was provided prior to abortion. Abortion was carried out in State and private clinics, and there had been a decrease in the number of abortions.
Regarding health-care reform, another member said that reform was being carried out with loans from the World Bank. The reform was being carried out to improve the quality of health services by ensuring cooperation at all levels. In the past, the health system had too many expenses and there had been far too many medical workers. Family-doctor institutes were being organized. Specialists were also being retrained as family doctors. In general, there was a lack of interest on the part of urban doctors to move to rural areas. Salary levels were insufficient for covering the needs of highly qualified personnel, and many health-care workers were leaving the health sector for other work.
Regarding the registration of victims of sexual violence, she said the Ministry of Health kept statistical indicators on cases of violence.
On the issue of underweight girls, she noted that the mortality rate among boys actually exceeded that of girls in the early stages of life. Maternity clinics in some provinces had received grants to provide assistance with underweight babies. Regarding the matter of anaemia, the Ministry of Health had presented a national programme for the prevention of iron deficiency anaemia and vitamin A deficiency. There were 10 facilities for enriching flour, and work was being done to prevent anaemia in remote areas. Crops which contained a high percentage of iron were also being grown in remote regions as part of a pilot project.
Another representative responded to the matter of the cyanide spill in May 1998. More than half a ton of the poison had fallen into a river when a truck transporting the substance had overturned. The Government had taken measures to mitigate the consequences of the accident, which had led to contamination of the environment. A criminal investigation had been conducted by law enforcement agencies. A comprehensive study had also been carried out on the effects of the spill.
The accident, the first of its kind on the territory, had no really serious consequences, he added. Cyanide quickly lost its poisonous properties when it hit a marine environment. There was some damage to the environment. The Government had immediately provided material assistance and state-of-the-art equipment to monitor the situation. The accident had not claimed any lives. The fact that it had occurred, however, had a strong psychological impact on the population. Monitoring was still ongoing in the village where the accident had occurred. Numerous NGOs were working on the issue. Compensation had been paid to the population not only for the effects of the cyanide, but also for the disinfectant used to handle the contamination.
Responding to questions about the media, another country representative said that plans were under way to develop a working relationship between the Government and the mass media. The National Council was drawing up a strategy for that sort of cooperation. The first aspect encouraged the media to cover the issue of female leadership. Additional efforts were being made to overcome gender stereotypes through the mass media and create new behavioural models. Such new images would be more in line with the objective of achieving gender equality and doing away with gender stereotypes.
She said that one proposal had been the creation of an information network for journalists to provide them, quickly and effectively, with access to professional and reliable information on issues of gender equality, on the State’s gender policy, and on the promulgation of relevant laws. Work was also under way to involve journalists in relevant events organized by the Government
Unfortunately, no analysis had been carried out yet on gender stereotypes in the area of higher education, but work was getting started. In concert with the UNDP, two seminars had been held on the subject of mainstreaming gender education. Also, a new work plan had been drawn up by the Education Ministry, which provided for an analysis of educational materials and the presence in them of gender stereotypes, along with the elaboration of new strategies.
Courses on gender issues were being offered in several universities and one even created a department on gender and human rights, which had as its objective training in constitutional law and gender policy, she said. Also, the national plan of action to achieve gender equality contained a provision for the State to order studies on gender equality, with the aim of strengthening that quest and identifying obstacles. Those would be carried out through the State agency on science. There were already independent scholarly studies on gender stereotypes. So far, those had been sporadic, but indicated that interest in the topic was growing. It was gratifying also to see that professors were working on those issues.
On health, another representative provided information on the several programmes undertaken by the Government to combat alcoholism and drug abuse. There was a centre on drug use in the capital, and, in the south, there was a drug clinic with 50 beds, which was assisting drug addicts and alcohol abusers. A programme to counteract drug abuse and the illegal trafficking in narcotics included a plan for measures to be taken over a three-year period. It not only included organizational steps to prevent the spread of such abuse, but also steps to improve the legal basis for drug control and crime prevention.
She said that the medical aspect of the programme included: implementation of a plan to prevent HIV/AIDS; a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts; the development of methadone therapy; improvement of emergency psychological assistance to drug addicts and alcohol abusers; dissemination of information on healthy living; and the provision of information to minors of high risk groups to prevent drug and alcohol abuse.
On health, she said it was true that the wording in the law on reproductive rights and the right to motherhood was not very good, and the necessary work should be done to correct that. What was meant by the provision was that the woman’s agreement was needed to interrupt a pregnancy because the risk to maintain a pregnancy involved her.
Regarding labour, she said that collective bargaining had been emphasized in a way that compelled both the employer and employees to consider the working conditions. By mid-2000, a new labour inspection division had been established in the Ministry of Social Protection, which sought to identify unfavourable working conditions harmful to both women and men, leading to the adoption of remedial measures.
During the first nine months of 2003, she said, the State inspection division had identified 55 cases, all of which had been submitted as claims against employers. In each case, the employer satisfied the lawsuits for the plaintiffs.
Regarding the serious gap in salary between men and women, she said that analysis had shown that that was linked to horizontal and vertical segregation. Clearly, men occupied higher paid posts than women, and thus there was a gap in earnings. The Government was taking measures, through its poverty-reduction programme, and efforts were under way to enhance such sectors as health and education.
The wording of the land law, which was still in effect, did contain a number of restrictions, a representative of the delegation said. A draft had been drawn up to change that law, which was discriminatory towards both the husband and the wife. If a woman left a family, she was not allowed to split the land. It was important, however, to keep in mind that the law had been adopted in 2001, when land reform measures were beginning to be enacted. Restrictions on land sale and exchange had served as a social guarantee, as land plots were often the sole source of income.
Also, a draft law on the management of agricultural land had been submitted to Parliament, she said. The last amendment stated that the owner of a plot had the right to sell it as a single plot of land without dividing it, except in cases of divorce. In 2003, when the President of Kyrgyzstan had visited Norway, an agreement had been reached that Kyrgyzstan would, by 2004, receive a grant of 1 million euros for implementing women’s rights to agricultural land.
HUGUETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, expert from Benin, noted that 2003 had been a positive year in terms of legislation and institutional changes. She was concerned, however, about the law on violence and its extension to other family members. The State seemed to tolerate the kidnapping of young girls and forced marriage.
AIDA GONZALEZ MARTINEZ, expert from Mexico, said the problems raised in 1999, at the time of the first periodic report, seemed to persist. Women continued to have the same restricted level of access to judicial proceedings and did not have equal protection under the law with men. Also, the persistence of stereotypes and traditions, particularly within the family, continued. A proposed reform to the land law would, to some extent, do away with the imbalance of women’s access to own, manage and earn money from the land. Discrimination against women was multifaceted and was both direct and indirect. Administrative norms, including awareness campaigns, to eliminate de facto discrimination were needed.
Concerning marriage, MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, the expert from Algeria, asked if a woman’s consent was required for marriage. If a marriage took place, was it recorded in the civil register? Were marriage contracts allowed to provide for the dissolution of the marriage in cases of divorce? In cases of divorce, was there a provision for shared guardianship? If the mother was given custody of the child, did she continue to live in the conjugal home? Did a couple have the right to adopt a child? If the natural parents of the adopted child were unknown, would the child be granted the nationality of the adopted mother or the adopted father? How were goods liquidated in cases of divorce?
Ms. GASPARD, the expert from France, asked for further information on the marriage age. On the question of polygamy, the delegation had described it as a marginal situation. Were polygamist marriages recorded and what was the attitude of civil authorities regarding that type of union?
AYSE FERIDE ACAR, the expert from Turkey, noted that, according to the delegation’s response, bride theft was a staged occurrence. What was the attitude of the authorities towards bride theft? Did they not think that that practice sent a wrong message on the decision-making capacity of women? Bride theft should not be regarded as a benign tradition.
A representative of the delegation said that all criminal punishment fell under the criminal code, and specific punishment was provided for specific acts of violence against any family member. A new family code was adopted last August, and the minimum age for marriage was set at 18. In exceptional cases, local bodies might lower that figure for both spouses to the age of 16. Lowering the minimum age beyond that was impossible and, if the marriage was concluded with someone under the age of 16, a person could face criminal charges.
He noted that concern had also been expressed that the State had a “tolerant stance” regarding the abduction of women for forced marriages. Tolerant in what sense? he asked. The State condemned that practice as outdated, declaring that agreement of both parties to enter into marriage was mandatory. Moreover, only those marriages registered with the Civil Marriage Registry were recognized. He assured the experts that efforts would be made to see to it that the spouses’ rights were not violated.
Regarding the dissolution of marriages, he said that that occurred only through legal proceedings. The law allowed for a dissolution based on the request of either spouse. The civil registry could dissolve a marriage when one spouse was dead or legally missing, or had been convicted to a prison term of more than three years.
If property division was in dispute, the family code would not allow for dissolution of a marriage unilaterally, but required the consent of both spouses. The family code included a wide range of rights of children in the case of a dissolved marriage. The courts resolved that issue on a case-by-case basis, but as experience had shown, children usually remained with the mother, who also generally retained the right to the house. The civil and family law had virtually nothing discriminatory in it and was very gender balanced legislation.
Addressing questions concerning adoption and citizenship, another representative explained that citizenship for children on the territory whose parents’ whereabouts were unknown, were deemed Kyrgyz citizens. If they were later adopted by parents of a different citizenship, then the children’s citizenship would be adjusted accordingly.
Family violence was still a grave aspect of violence overall, she said. Many women were reluctant to press charges against their husbands. That was why temporary and permanent restraining orders were allowed. Those also avoided possible imprisonment, which would prevent a husband from providing a living for the family. Under a restraining order, the aggressor could be banned from the house. That was an important provision because the house was often in the husband’s name. It was important to note that even with such an order, the woman still retained the right to press criminal or civil charges.
Replying to another question, a representative said it was not possible to register polygamy officially; the State did not allow that.
Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, sought clarification about citizenship. Specifically, what were women’s rights to transfer Kyrgyz citizenship to their children?
Ms. GNACADJA, expert from Benin, clarified her question about the States’ permissive stance regarding the kidnapping of young girls. The report had stated that the State had taken a “permissive stance” on that issue. So, that was not her interpretation, but a direct reading from the report. She had been informed of the provisions of the family code on family goods, but what were the limits on the rights of women since they did not have the right to sell the property? And, what were the Government’s intentions in that regard?
Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, said she had received clarification to her question about abortion as family planning, but she had not received a response about the need for a woman to obtain her husband’s permission to have an abortion.
Replying to the questions about citizenship, a representative explained that a child on the territory whose parents’ whereabouts were unknown was considered a citizen of Kyrgyzstan. Under the citizenship law, if one adoptive parent was a Kyrgyz citizen, then the child was a Kyrgyz citizen. If neither were citizens, then citizenship would be determined by both parents. Children born to a Kyrgyz father whose whereabouts was unknown was a citizen of the Republic, but as had already been stated, there was a preference towards citizenship of the father. For example, in determining cases where the mother was a citizen of Kyrgyzstan and the father was a foreign citizen, the law did not automatically give the child Kyrgyz citizenship, whereas Kyrgyz citizenship was automatic if the father was a citizen and if the mother was not. So, that was discriminatory, he said.
He reiterated that the State did not have a permissive stance regarding the abduction of women. In fact, the State provided for criminal charges if the abduction took place against the girl’s will. When there was agreement between both parties to marry, abduction was a “traditional kind of rite created over centuries”, he said.
Another speaker reiterated that abortion was not considered a method of family planning. By law, any medical intervention during pregnancy required the agreement of both partners or the agreement of the woman. The wording in the reproductive law was not precise. It had intended to protect the rights of the woman. Later in the wording, it stated that the woman could not be forced by anyone to abort her child. But that wording must be made more clear and more precise, she said.
She reiterated the Committee’s thanks for the presentation and replies. The Committee commended the Government for passing a “significant” body of legislation to promote gender equality. In that context, the laws on State guarantee of equality and on violence against women were particularly notable. The Committee, nonetheless, would like to see implementation of those laws, in the form of figures and statistics, as well as evidence that women on the ground recognized their rights in laws. She emphasized the advantages of strengthened cooperation with civil society as an area of utmost salience, and she urged the Government to enhance its efforts in that regard. She also recommended the inclusion of civil society in the preparation of the next report to the Committee, adding that that should also be used as an opportunity to raise public consciousness of women’s human rights.
She said that the widespread and effective dissemination of the Committee’s concluding comments were of utmost importance, as that was what linked women’s awareness to international standards. Unless women knew their rights, they could not be expected to really enjoy them. Worldwide experience had testified to the Committee that women’s NGOs were “a government’s best support” in that endeavour.
She also commended the Government for its efforts to combat trafficking in women and for spearheading regional efforts in that regard. In the next report, she sought concrete evidence of results in that area. She also requested information about what was being done to combat the root causes of prostitution and trafficking as a feminization of poverty. The Committee remained concerned about the existence, or perhaps even the re-emergence, of some discriminatory practices and patriarchal traditions. Such patriarchal traditions were incompatible with and contradicted the Convention. As such, those should be very closely monitored and assessed, and measures should be taken without delay to eliminate them.
Particular reference had been made to polygamy and the kidnapping of women, she noted, adding that the Committee felt strongly that eradication of such discriminatory practices and the combating of stereotypes were fundamental pillars to eliminating all discrimination against women in any society. Thus, she urged the Government to openly address all discriminatory practices and to utilize its secular legal framework and strong traditions, which empowered women. Also important was that women’s human rights were not violated under the guise of right to privacy or respect for culture and tradition. She urged the Government, therefore, to take a gender sensitive review of the traditions and assess them and their impact on women.
She said she was similarly concerned about women’s under-representation in political parties and political life, and diplomacy and in the judiciary. The lack of temporary special measures and the reluctance to impose those in order to accelerate equal representation was a cause for concern. She urged the Government to heed the need for temporary special measures, in order to address that problematic under-representation of women. Kyrgyzstan’s society was one in which women’s education was not nearly as problematic as in many other countries, and that created an environment conducive to promoting women’s participation in the judiciary, diplomacy and politics.
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