WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE PRESSES LATVIA, MALTA ON TREATY COMPLIANCE
WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE PRESSES LATVIA, MALTA ON TREATY COMPLIANCE
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
662nd & 663rd Meetings (AM & PM)
WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE PRESSES LATVIA, MALTA ON TREATY COMPLIANCE
Aligning Domestic Legislation with Treaty Obligations Stressed
Entering the third and final week of its current session, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which monitors compliance with the Women’s Convention, heard replies today from Latvia and Malta in response to questions it posed to those delegations last week following presentations of their reports.
In the morning session, the Committee’s 23 expert members, who serve in their personal capacities, heard Latvia’s response to questions it had posed on 14 July, when it presented its combined initial through third reports. Focusing on queries about gender-based ethnic discrimination, Ina Druviete, Chair of the Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee of Latvia’s Parliament, stressed that Latvian legislation banned such prejudice. She highlighted the lack of significant differences in educational level, employment, salaries and living standards among the country’s ethnic groups. Allegations of discrimination against minority women in Latvia were unjustified, both in legislation and everyday practice, she said.
Turning to health concerns, Ronald Rozkalns, Deputy Head of the Division of Care of Society Health, Department of Society Health, Ministry of Health, noted that Latvia’s high number of induced abortions was decreasing. Some 14,508 induced abortions had occurred in 2003, down from 15,647 in 2001. An important step in reducing the incidence of abortions had been the 2003 Law on Sexual and Reproductive Health, which allowed abortions in three situations -- when women decided to do so; when medical indications required an abortion; and when pregnancy resulted from rape.
On law enforcement, Arturs Vaisla, Ministry of the Interior, drew attention to the State Programme for Prevention of Trafficking in Human Beings 2004-2008. The Programme focused on training law enforcement officials and educational employees, creating shelters and assessing violence-related health problems, sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
He noted that more than 100 women, mostly between the ages of 18 and 25, left the country each month to become prostitutes in European countries, mainly to improve their financial situations. While prostitution was allowed in Latvia, it was considered a social evil, and third party action to encourage the practice was prohibited, as was the engagement of minors. With amendments to the Criminal Law and the introduction of more severe sanctions, the number of criminal offences regarding minors involved in prostitution had decreased.
Responding to additional questions from experts during the ensuing discussion, Inge Reine said she did not know yet whether funds would be provided for a project that would inform women victims of domestic violence about available services. To a question about the Optional Protocol, she said that political will and the Government’s ability to take on new commitments would determine when that would be ratified. On abortion, Mr. Rozkalns said the vast majority of women undergoing the operation were between the ages of 18 to 25.
Wrapping up the discussion, Committee Chairperson Ayse Feride Acar of Turkey praised Latvia’s many legal reforms, but noted that problems remained in their implementation. Although labour legislation had been brought into line with European Union standards, the country still needed an equality clause and a definition of discrimination in the constitution. Noting that gender stereotypes were also a concern, she stressed the need for awareness-raising campaigns, as well as gender sensitization in the civil service and society as a whole. She also urged the Government to consider ratifying the Optional Protocol, which would signal Latvia’s willingness to implement the Convention.
This afternoon, the Committee heard replies by the delegation of Malta to questions posed to it on 13 July, when it had introduced its combined initial, second and third periodic report.
Addressing the issue of the Convention’s application into Maltese law, Sina Bugeja, Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity, noted that the dualist system in matters of international law meant that international treaties in Malta were not self-executing. For treaty obligations to be given the force of law domestically, they must be incorporated into domestic legislation. A specific act of Parliament was needed for the treaty’s enforceability as part of Maltese law. Incorporating the Convention into Maltese legislation would be tantamount to replicating provisions in existing legislation, and it was not the Government’s intention to transpose the Convention into domestic legislation. The adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights into Maltese legislation had been an exception and not the rule, she explained.
Responding to the Committee’s concern about Malta’s dependency on European human rights instruments, another member of the delegation explained that the European Convention on Human Rights had been enacted in 1987 in response to a difficult period in Malta’s history. A new Government had been elected that year, and the first law it had passed had provided for the incorporation of the European Human Rights Convention into Maltese domestic law.
Concerning the issue of Malta’s reservations to several of the Convention’s provisions, Ms. Bugeja noted that the Convention itself gave States the right to make reservations so long as those were not incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention. Malta was among over 55 States that had entered reservations to the Convention, and it was exercising its right as a sovereign State to do so. The Government was currently considering signing the Convention’s Optional Protocol, she added.
In closing, Heisoo Shin, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert from the Republic of Korea, commending Malta’s efforts to improve its legal system, noted that the issue of gender equality had but a short history in the country. Concerned about the incorporation of the Convention into the country’s legal system, the Committee had noted Malta’s apparent reliance on European Union human rights instruments at the expense of the Convention, which was a legally binding treaty between the ratifying country and the international community. In that respect, she hoped Malta would find ways to incorporate the Convention into its system, so that women in the country would be aware of their rights under that instrument.
Also participating in Latvia’s delegation were: Maris Badovskis, Director of the Department of European and Legal Affairs, Ministry of Welfare; Sandra Falka, Specialist in Social Sciences of the Center of Education Content and Examination, Ministry of Education; Gints Jegermanis, Permanent Representative of Latvia to the United Nations in New York; and Aiga Liepina, First Secretary, Deputy Permanent Representative of Latvia to the United Nations in New York.
Members of Malta’s delegation also included: Victor Camilleri, Permanent Representative of Malta to the United Nations; Colin Scicluna, Deputy Permanent Representative of Malta to the United Nations; Deborah Attard Montalto, Counselor in the Maltese Mission to the United Nations; and Vanni Xuereb, Advisor, National Commission for the Promotion of Equality between Men and Women.
The Committee will meet again at a time to be announced in the Journal.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) met today to hear replies by the delegations of Latvia and Malta in response to questions posed by the Committee during its consideration of those countries’ reports, respectively on 14 and 13 July.
Replies from Latvia
INA DRUVIETE, Chair of the Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee of the Parliament, noted that her country comprised 58.2 per cent Latvians, 29.2 per cent Russians, four per cent Byelorussians, three per cent Ukrainians, and 2.5 per cent Poles. Latvian legislation prohibited discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, and there had been few cases of violation over the past 10 years. No significant differences existed in educational level, employment, salaries, or living standards among the various ethnic groups. In 2004, some 77.8 per cent of Latvia’s permanent residents had citizenship. The marriage of a Latvian to an alien or stateless person, or dissolution of a marriage, did not affect citizenship. A child born to a Latvian and an alien or stateless person would become a Latvian citizen once the parents had submitted an application, which was free of charge.
Continuing, she noted that significant efforts had been made to promote the Latvian language among minorities. More than $10 million had been allocated to the National Latvian Language Training Programme since 1995, offering Latvian language courses free of charge to those who wished to become citizens. Allegations of discrimination against minority women in the country were unjustified, including on a language basis, both in legislation and everyday practice. In 2003, slightly more people in the country were Russian-speaking (81.2 per cent) than Latvian (79 per cent), and in six out of seven major Latvian cities, Latvian speakers formed a minority. Minority women generally had better Latvian language skills than men.
INGE REINE, Representative of the Government before International Human Rights Organizations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, addressing the country’s constitutional and institutional structure, said the delay in submission of the country’s report had mainly been due to structural difficulties and a shortage of human capacity, rather than political will. The original language of the report was Latvian, but it was being translated into all United Nations’ official languages. Her office had prepared a summary of the Convention and the Committee’s recommendations, which had been published on its web site and distributed to ministries dealing with women’s rights. It had also been sent to several non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the Human Rights Institution of the University of Latvia, and the Latvian Human Rights Institute. The report in Latvian was also publicly available in Russian, since that was an official United Nations language. In addition to being available on various web sites, it had also been included in the international legal rights database.
Regarding the country’s constitutional structure, she explained that Latvia’s current Constitution was drawn up in 1922, and was intended as a framework document, with detailed provisions explained under specific laws. Provisions were incorporated under blanket, rather than specific laws, such as the criminal or administrative codes. The Ministry for Children and Family Affairs coordinated and supervised various legislative acts on children and the family, dealt with complaints, and carried out inspections.
As for the country’s legal profession, she noted that women had made up some 74.9 per cent of district courts and 63.5 per cent of regional courts in 2002, and 48.7 per cent of the Supreme Court in 2001 and 2002. A woman had recently been appointed to the European Union First Instance Court, and specialized prosecutors comprised 48.2 per cent women in 2002. The Government saw no need for temporary special measures, since women were quite visible in the legal professions.
Women’s rights and gender equality were integrated into courses on the family, labour and social law, which were organized annually and attended by district and regional court judges responsible for such cases, she said. The country had so far conducted two national legal cases, which incorporated the Convention into the proceedings. The Law Faculty of the University of Latvia had classes on the Convention as part of its international law course. The country had three main mechanisms dealing with complaints about gender equality, and women could turn to the courts in cases of discrimination, where the burden of proof rested on the employer. She outlined various examples of employment discrimination, as well as the procedure for obtaining compensation through the courts.
MARIS BADOVSKIS, Director of the Department of European and Legal Affairs, Ministry of Welfare, speaking on welfare in the country, noted that several political, legislative and administrative measures had been implemented in the country in recent years to promote gender equality, and that various draft policy papers would soon be submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers. Legislation that had been added or amended to combat discrimination had included the Labour Law; the Law on Labour Protection, and several regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers in the field of employment and labour protection.
At the governmental level, he said, the Ministry of Welfare was mainly responsible for gender equality issues and coordinating implementation of equal treatment policies. Recent projects in the area had included: Gender in Politics in Latvia; Promotion of Gender Mainstreaming in National Policies in Latvia; the European Union’s Administrative Capacity Building of Governmental Bodies and Social Partners in Gender Mainstreaming Development and Implementation; Women Towards Leadership in Business and Agriculture; and the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Gender Mainstreaming Development and Implementation at the Municipal Level in Latvia.
He added that Latvia currently possessed about 33 working gender equality and women’s organizations. Government institutions dealing with the issue regularly cooperated with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in improving existing policies and developing new ones. Information campaigns were organized through the national media and other publications to inform society about new labour and labour protection legislation, and several activities had been carried out to encourage mass media to combat stereotypes.
Continuing, he noted that some 92.3 per cent of all employed women in 2003 were insured against unemployment. According to State Employment Agency statistics, some 4,679 women out of 6,987 unemployed persons had received training, and 8,371 women out of 17,372 unemployed persons had been sent to paid temporary public works. About 8,761 women had received early retirement pensions in the first quarter of 2004. Women preferred public sector employment because of social guarantees and family friendly environments. Many women were employed in the health care, education and social work sectors. Employers by law had the duty to specify equal work remuneration for men and women for work of equal value. There were many trade unions in Latvia, many of which represented employees in the public sector.
On the issue of health, RONALD ROZKALNS, Deputy Head of Division of Care of Society Health, Department of Society Health, Ministry of Health, noted that in spite of the high number of induced abortions in Latvia, that number was decreasing. During 2003, there had been some 14,508 induced abortions compared to 14,685 abortions in 2002, and 15,647 in 2001. In 2003, there had been 695.5 induced abortions per 1,000 childbirths. An important step in reducing the number of abortions had been the adoption of the Law on Sexual and Reproductive Health in 2003. According to that law, abortions could be performed in three situations, namely when the women decided to have an abortion, when there were medical indications or pregnancy resulting from rape. If pregnancy occurred as a result of criminal violence or if medical contraindications were present, the abortion could be performed after a woman gave her written consent and at least three doctors had confirmed the necessity of abortion. In the case of under age women, abortion could be performed only if a girl herself and one of her parents agreed.
Regarding HIV/AIDS in Latvia, he said the Centre of AIDS Prophylaxis had been established under the Ministry of Health to deal with questions concerning the spread of HIV/AIDS. The Centre also worked to reduce the damage caused by the disease and to combat its spread. In 2003, the Cabinet of Ministers had adopted the Programme on Combating the Spread of HIV and AIDS for 2003-2007, which was aimed at reducing the number of new cases. The State also fully covered the costs of HIV and AIDS treatment.
On the issue of education, SANDRA FALKA, Specialist in Social Sciences of the Centre of Education Content and Examination, Ministry of Education, noted that Latvia’s Constitution incorporated the general principles of human rights, including the rights of the child and equality between races, ethnicities and gender. Professional education institutions did not provide a separate subject on health studies. Topics such as gender roles and stereotypes, however, were included in health studies at primary and secondary schools. The School Health Promotion project had been in effect since 1993 with 97 schools participating. The goal of that project was to reduce the demand for narcotic and psychotropic substances. Schools could also cooperate with non-governmental organizations working in the field. In addition, more than 200 hundred teachers were being trained on the issue of prophylaxis prevention.
She said that domestic skills were taught in grades one through nine. Schools also offered technology training irrespective of gender. Gender equality issues were included in social sciences studies. Some 66 per cent of higher academic staff were women. Among them, about 18 per cent were professors, 43 per cent were assistant professors and 68 per cent were lecturers.
Concerning law enforcement issues, ARTURS VAISLA, Head of the Second Division of the Office for Combating Drugs, Board for Combating Organized Crime of the Head Office of the Criminal Police, State Police, Ministry of Interior, noted that, according to State Police data, some 756 women had suffered from violence during 2003. The Riga Municipal Police received an average of 400 calls a week. Approximately half of all crimes committed against women in Latvia took place in the family. Some 35 women each year were the victims of homicide by their partners. Some 23.5 per cent of police officers were women. Young women, however, preferred the civil service, as the police profession was not well paid.
Education and prevention were among the most important issues of the State Programme for Prevention of Trafficking in Human Beings 2004-2008, he continued. Within the framework of that programme, a system for training law enforcement officials and educational employees had been developed. A system for providing information on the issue of trafficking in human beings had also been developed. Also, several steps would be taken to establish well functioning rehabilitation services, including the creation of shelters and the development of methodologies for assessing the health restrictions resulting from violence, sexual exploitation and human trafficking. To provide a wide spectrum of rehabilitation services, the State Police cooperated with State and municipal institutions and non-governmental organizations. A number of organizations were providing assistance to the victims of human trafficking.
More than 100 women left the country every month for European countries to engage in prostitution, he said. Some 99 per cent of them left the country willingly and understood that they would be working in the sex industry. The State’s position regarding prostitution was the same as that of France. While prostitution was not prohibited, it was considered to be a social evil and the State tried to reduce the number of women involved. Although women could become prostitutes at the age of 18, third party action to encourage prostitution was prohibited, as was the engagement of minors. With amendments to the Criminal Law and the introduction of more severe sanctions, the number of criminal offences regarding minors involved in prostitution had decreased.
Women engaged in prostitution mostly because of the economic opportunity in western countries, he said. Most of the victims of prostitution were women between the ages of 18 and 25, who were willing to improve their financial situations in western European brothels.
Questions, Comments from Experts
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, questioned whether the country had accepted the concept of gender equality and had proposed centres for the promotion of gender equality. The report had not made this clear.
DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked whether the country’s Constitution contained principles on gender equality and women’s equal rights.
KRISZTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, asked why only three NGOs had been involved in preparing the report, and whether the country would be funding NGO work in domestic violence. Also, was marital rape criminalized in the country? If not, did Latvia have plans to do so? How were traffickers penalized?
HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked whether evaluation of employment conditions had led to higher wages for women. Also, what criteria were considered in cases of employment compensation?
ROSARIO MANALO, expert from the Philippines, said she was unclear about the country’s definition of marital rape. Did the country plan to include a definition of it in the courts?
Reply from Latvia
Ms. REINE said that, while there had been a proposal to establish a gender promotion council, the Gender Equality Council had been created instead. Latvia’s Constitution did not distinguish between men and women -- everyone was considered equal. The constitutional court had interpreted equality in terms of gender and age numerous times. The principle of equality was being upheld across the board.
Regarding NGO involvement, she said the Government sent reports to the most visible NGOs on each particular issue. Other NGOs were free to comment during the discussion phase. Only three NGOs had been active and visible in the area of gender equality, and those had been individually addressed and asked to submit comments.
Concerning the domestic violence project, she said it would be difficult to know if funds would be provided. The purpose of the campaign was to advertise the fact that services were available. Marital rape fell under the general provisions of the criminal code and was recognized as rape. There was a heavy fine for trafficking in women.
Regarding the wage gap, she noted that salary depended on educational levels, language skills and other abilities. The next report could contain more detailed information on that issue. There had been a proposal to increase teachers’ salaries next year. The legal profession was one of the highest paid in Government.
The delegation could not, at present, provide a commitment that the Government would ratify the Optional Protocol by a certain time. That depended on political will and whether the Government was prepared to take on additional international commitments.
On the issue of abortion, Mr. ROZKALNS said the vast majority of women having abortions were between the ages of 18 and 25. The NGO “Flower of Fern” and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had carried out research on the issue, which showed that the large majority of men did not recognize their responsibility in reproductive planning or reproductive health.
Wrapping up the discussion, Committee Chairperson and expert from Turkey, AYSE FERIDE ACAR, said the extensive answers provided today had enhanced the Committee’s understanding of the situation of women in Latvia. The concluding comments would be forwarded in due course. The implementation of a State social integration programme that emphasized freedom of individual liberties was commendable. She was aware of the country’s efforts to integrate into the European Union and congratulated Latvia’s accession in that regard. States parties’ international obligations under the Convention were of the essence for the Committee. The Government had to prioritize its commitments under the Convention as a basic framework for legal and policy actions regarding women’s non-discrimination. The Convention set out the comprehensive foundation for elimination of discrimination against women in all its facets.
While Latvia’s many legal reforms were commendable, problems remained in their implementation, she said. Although labor legislation had been brought in line with European Union standards, that did not preclude the need for an equality clause in the Constitution and a definition of discrimination. Such a provision would be relevant to all the country’s laws, and would apply to both the public and private spheres. A State’s obligation under the Convention was to embody the principle of equality in its national Constitution.
While the Government’s many efforts to promulgate laws and put policies into action had been commendable, legislation was not the only area of concern, she said. The perpetuation of gender stereotypes was an area requiring increased attention. She stressed the importance of awareness-raising campaigns and welcomed the fact that the national programme for the implementation of equal treatment had been approved and would soon enter into force. Gender sensitizing in all parts of the civil service and civil society were critical to achieve holistic results. Concrete efforts were also needed to sensitize legal personnel. It was necessary to go beyond the mere existence of non-discriminatory legislation. Women’s ability to benefit from laws depended on a number of factors. Women had to be empowered to make use of existing legislation and the courts. She urged the Government to step up efforts to integrate the Convention into the training of the judiciary.
Despite the many women in local-level councils, the number of women in Latvia’s national Parliament left much to be desired, she noted. In that respect, she urged the Government to build on the strong infrastructure of women in local legislatures. Given the fact that Latvian women were highly educated, it was disappointing not to have commensurate progress for women in decision-making positions at the national level. She encouraged the Government to implement special temporary measures to increase women’s participation in the national legislature. Women’s participation in decision-making positions in the private sector was also essential. She asked that the next report contain sex-disaggregated data on women’s participation in both the public and private sectors. Of continuing concern was the pay gap between men and women, which appeared to be related to a segregated labor market. In that regard, a structural situation needed to be addressed through structural reform.
She also urged the Government to consider ratifying the Optional Protocol, which would signal Latvia’s willingness to implement the Women’s Convention.
Reply from Malta
SINA BUGEJA, Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity, addressing the Convention’s incorporation into Maltese law, said Malta’s constitutional system was modeled on the Constitution of the United Kingdom and followed the practice of the United Kingdom’s constitutional system in matters relating to international treaties. The dualist system in matters of international law meant that international treaties in Malta were not self-executing. An international treaty alone could not form the basis of an action in Maltese courts. For treaty obligations to be given the force of law domestically, they must be incorporated into domestic legislation. Ratification by the Parliament did not automatically incorporate a treaty into domestic law and a specific Act of Parliament was needed for the treaty’s enforceability as part of Maltese law.
In case of conflict, the Maltese courts would not be bound by international law and would apply national legislation, she said. The adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights into Maltese legislation had been the exception, not the rule. That Convention had been embodied into Maltese law in 1987 mainly to grant a domestic remedy against violations of the Convention through the Maltese courts, in practice, eliminating the need of recourse to the European Court of Human Rights in most cases. In 1991, constitutional amendments had been approved giving a two-year time frame during which all Maltese legislation had to be reviewed to eliminate discriminatory provisions on grounds of sex. Maltese domestic legislation was in line with CEDAW’s provisions. Incorporating the Convention into Maltese legislation would be tantamount to replicating provisions in existing legislation, and it was not the Government’s intention to transpose the Convention into domestic legislation.
She said that the Government was currently considering signing the Convention’s Optional Protocol. Advice had been recently sought from the Attorney General as to whether there were any legal impediments to such action, and that advice was still awaited.
She said that 2004 had marked a number of changes in Government and national machinery for the implementation of gender equality. A new Prime Minister had been elected in March, leading to a redistribution of ministries and the appointment of a new minister responsible for Equality. Most responsibilities of the former Ministry for Social Policy had been absorbed into the Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity. The former Commission for the Advancement of Women and the Department for Women in Society had been absorbed into the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE) between Men and Women.
Addressing Malta’s reservations to the Convention, she said that the reservation to article 11 on employment had been entered to allow for legislation considered necessary to protect the health and safety of the woman or the human fetus, including prohibitions, restrictions or conditions imposed in consequence of Malta’s other international obligations, such as under the International Labor Organization conventions. The reservation to article 16 on marriage and family life had been intended to leave no room for interpreting the provisions of that article as an obligation by Malta to legalize abortion.
Concerning the reservation to article 13, on economic and social benefits, she said that the Social Security Act had originally recognized the husband as the head of the household. That provision had been considered discriminatory against the wife. The Act had been amended in 1996 to define the “head of household” in relation to a household consisting of two or more persons, as the person who was the head of household. Apart from eliminating discrimination against the wife, where the household consisted of a married couple, the new definition had eliminated problems that had arisen in establishing who was to be considered head of household in households consisting of two or more unmarried persons, such as brothers and sisters. In 2003, the Social Security Act had been amended to the effect that, as from 1 January 2004, both married males and females who had not been abandoned by their spouse were no longer liable to pay contributions.
Article 28 of the Convention gave States the right to make reservations so long as they were not incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention, she added. Malta was among over 55 States that had entered reservations to the Convention, and it was exercising its right as a sovereign State to do so, she said.
Upon its establishment in January 2004, the NCPE -- the legal entity responsible for monitoring the compliance with the Act to Promote Equality and to take action in cases of non-compliance -- had undertaken an awareness exercise to sensitize Maltese society on the provisions of the Act, she said. The NCPE monitored the publication of advertisements to identify gender-stereotyped statements and take necessary legal action. A national media campaign was currently being planned to generate awareness on new equality legislation. The Commission, which had received some 26 complaints between January and July, also provided assistance to persons in difficult situations, including family crises, domestic violence and sexual harassment.
Noting that the Domestic Violence Bill was currently before the Attorney General, she said that once the Attorney General had drafted the bill, it would be submitted to the Cabinet and eventually to the Parliament. The current draft covered such aspects of the problem as the protection of victims, the treatment of the perpetrator, and State intervention in proceeding with actions on behalf of victims. Given the wide scope of the Criminal Code, a more specific law relating to domestic violence was needed.
Addressing implementation of the post-Beijing Plan of Action 2000-2005, Ms. BUGEJA noted that the NCPE had been following a two-year Strategic Policy Direction 2004-2006, which focused on a four-pronged approach. The strategy considered the following: demographic changes and the falling birth rate; the longer life spans of women and the need to develop new approaches for old age funding; ever rising economic expectations and lifestyle changes; and the large number of qualified women who left the workforce for family and other reasons. Several issues should be addressed, including: access to affordable and reliable childcare facilities; reduced hours, job sharing, career breaks, and related conditions; lifelong learning and training opportunities; the financial worth of loyal female employees; entrepreneurship and self-employment opportunities for women; and the protection of women or men who managed homes and family with no earned income.
On teenage mothers, she described centres for young mothers, which had been set up to ensure that pregnant girls could stay in school once they gave birth, and avoid the poverty trap. Girls did, in fact, go on with their educations, taking courses leading to better opportunities for employment. At one centre, counselling was given to both mothers-to-be and fathers-to-be, and other Government entities provided services free of charge.
Turning to violence, she said the Domestic Violence Unit was part of the national agency offering social support services. The Agency received $2.5 million from the Government, which constituted 32 per cent of the budget of the Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity. The Agency employed several qualified social workers to work in various areas, including domestic violence. Counselling and legal advice was offered to all clients, and financial aid was available for the needy.
On other questions, she said that the NCPE was working on the lack of financial recognition for homemaking and voluntary work, and the fact that teachers’ training had not been assessed. The Gender Issues Committee at the University of Malta identified sources of unequal opportunities or treatment, and took action on specific grievances. The Committee also received and monitored complaints from university staff and students about sex discriminatory practices. It liaised with advisors on sexual harassment and established networks with individuals and organizations with similar aims, in Malta and internationally. The Committee also liaised with the National Statistics Office to measure new gender statistics, and it performed a watchdog role to monitor employment conditions at the university, scholarships awards, and selection and promotion criteria.
As for trafficking in women, she agreed that the White Slave Traffic Ordinance was a 1930 law, but that had been regularly amended and brought into line with the current situation. In addition, other provisions in the Criminal Code were directed at trafficking in persons. Over the past five to six years, the police had been focusing on reports of foreign women, who appeared to be from Russia and Ukraine, practicing prostitution in Malta. Individuals had been arraigned in court for their involvement in such trafficking, and several had been convicted. Since January 2003, four major cases involving foreign women had been reported, investigated and prosecuted. In those cases, 17 males and two females had been arraigned in court.
Regarding passport regulations, she said that the requirement for a woman to apply for a new passport following marriage was not discriminatory, as it was only women who changed their surname by adopting their husband’s surname on marriage who were then required to obtain a new passport. Women who opted to retain their maiden surname on marriage were not required to apply for a new passport.
Turning to article 10 on education, she noted that at the tertiary level, there was a higher percentage of females who successfully completed their studies. In 2003, 57 per cent of all University of Malta graduates had been females. Success rates showed that females also fared better than males at the secondary level.
Concerning employment, she said that most measures to achieve a balance between work and life applied to both women and men. Regarding wage discrimination, any remaining discrepancies resulted from the different occupational categories in which men and women were employed. The gender gap in income -- rather than wages -- tended to result by default rather than as an issue of direct discrimination.
Among other employment-related issues, she noted that the introduction of measures to facilitate a work-life balance was relatively low in the private sector compared to the public sector. While the Ministry for Education, Youth and Employment did not provide childcare facilities, the issue was being tackled as part of the national action plan for employment. Several reports had been submitted on the issue and the Government was currently finalizing regulations for childcare facilities.
Regarding women’s health, she explained that while primary health-care service was free of charge, pharmaceutical products were not. Regarding sexual education as part of the curriculum in Malta’s Catholic schools, she said that all schools, whether public, private or church schools, must follow the national curriculum. Personal and social development education was offered in all public, church and private schools, and covered topics including sex education and drug misuse. Sex education was discussed very broadly and was not delivered as part of religious instruction, although nothing precluded teachers of religion from discussing the Church’s position on the matter.
Addressing the issue of divorce, which had not been legalized in Malta, she noted that access to divorce was not considered a fundamental human right and had never been so interpreted in the major human rights conventions and treaties. Family legislation normally fell within the purview of national legislation. When a marriage broke down, the couple had recourse to separation either through the courts or privately through a notarial deed. A family court had been set up to deal with cases of separation when that was not done by consent of the parties.
Questions, Comments from Experts
Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, wishing to clarify several questions she had raised, said she did not doubt that reservations were permitted under the Convention, nor had the Committee ever said that a reservation had to be removed. Her comment regarding the high rate of depression among women had also been completely misunderstood. From the replies, she now understood that the reservation to article 15 was being reconsidered. Why could the reservation to article 13 not be reconsidered? she asked. She also did not know if the reservation to article 16 had changed.
Ms. MANALO, expert from the Philippines, said she was not clear about the participation of NGOs in the report’s preparation. Also, on the issue of rape, the Committee dealt with women’s human rights. Rape was a violation of a woman’s human right. The Committee did not discuss morality.
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, noted that because Malta adhered to the dualist system, international conventions, on the whole, did not apply directly in the Maltese legal order. The European Convention on Human Rights was the exception, however. For the outsider, it seemed that Malta attached different importance to different treaties. In other words, there seemed to be a categorization of the various treaties. He was glad to note that the Government was considering ratifying the Optional Protocol. If ratified, however, the Maltese person using the individual reporting procedure could not invoke the Convention in Malta’s courts. Could that be a case for granting a second exception to the rule, namely by transforming the Convention into Maltese law? On the issue of reservations, while the Committee did not dispute the sovereign right of any Government to make reservations, it also did not dispute the sovereign right of Governments to withdraw them. The Committee called on all governments to consider withdrawing reservations to the Convention.
Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked about the bilingual nature of Malta’s population.
Reply from Malta
Responding, Ms. BUGEJA said the point on depression was understood. She recognized the possibility of women being more readily diagnosed with depression. As for reservations, more discussion was needed. The delegation would relay the Committee’s feedback to the Government.
On the issue of temporary special measures, another member of the delegation said that, given the different legal backgrounds, there were a number of legal issues that were difficult to explain. The European Convention on Human Rights had been enacted in 1987 in response to a difficult period in Malta’s history. A new Government had been elected that year, and the first law it had passed had provided for the incorporation of the European Human Rights Convention into Maltese domestic law. That action had been taken to guarantee the best possible protection for human rights. The novelty of the act was that Maltese courts could apply the highest degree of protection. It had been an exceptional measure to the dualist system. When exceptions became the rule, however, one had to change the rule. The line would have to be drawn somewhere.
Given the dualist system, Malta’s international obligations were indirectly incorporated into domestic legislation, he added. In interpreting domestic legislation, courts would refer to the sources of legislation, including the Convention. English was one of two official languages in the country. The law was promulgated both in Maltese and English.
Ms. BUGEJA said that various individuals or organizations with an interest in women’s issues had been involved in preparing the country’s report, in an effort to make it as comprehensive as possible.
HEISOO SHIN, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert from the Republic of Korea, commended Malta’s efforts to improve its legal system, noting that the issue of gender equality had only a short history in the country. The Committee was concerned, however, about incorporation of the Convention into the country’s legal system. It had also noted the country’s apparent reliance on European Union human rights instruments at the expense of the Convention, which was a legally binding treaty between the ratifying country and the international community. She hoped the country would find ways to incorporate the Convention into its system, so that women in Malta would be aware of their rights under the Convention.
She also expressed concern over Malta’s reservations with the Convention, and encouraged it to consider reviewing them. In addition, she suggested the following: that Maltaratify the Convention’s Optional Protocol; consider the low number of women in its labour market; address the country’s wage gap and lack of childcare facilities; and pay special attention to women’s position as the major caregivers in Maltese households. The country also needed to increase the proportion of women in administrative and decision-making positions, perhaps using temporary special measures. Malta should also quickly enact the domestic violence legislation under consideration.
* *** *