PROGRESS MADE IN MAINSTREAMING GENDER EQUALITY INTO POLAND’S NATIONAL LEGISLATION, WOMEN’S ANTI-DESCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TOLD

16 January 2007
WOM/1591

PROGRESS MADE IN MAINSTREAMING GENDER EQUALITY INTO POLAND’S NATIONAL LEGISLATION, WOMEN’S ANTI-DESCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TOLD

16 January 2007
General Assembly
WOM/1591
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PROGRESS MADE IN MAINSTREAMING GENDER EQUALITY INTO POLAND’S NATIONAL

LEGISLATION, WOMEN’S ANTI-DESCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TOLD

 

But Committee Experts Express Concern over Focus on Labour,

Employment; Say Government Action Should Address All Aspects of Convention

Since becoming a full European Union member in May 2004, Poland had made headway in mainstreaming gender equality into national policies and enacting legislation to strengthen protection of women against domestic violence, workplace discrimination and human trafficking rings, Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska, Under-Secretary of State of the Polish Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women as it considered Poland’s sixth periodic report.

The 2005 Law on Counteracting Violence in the Family gave police the green light to swiftly remove perpetrators from their homes and ban all future contact with their victims and witnesses, said Ms. Kluzik-Rostkowska, who also headed the delegation.  Polish law enforcement and community groups were partnering to reduce violence and support victims, while a Government appointed team was hammering out standards of conduct for police officers, judiciary and others aiding victims of domestic violence and rape.

Poland was cooperating with neighbouring countries through regional agreements to end another serious violation of women’s rights:  abduction, particularly for sexual exploitation, she said.  In 2005, Poland had signed the Council of Europe’s Convention to combat human trafficking and made it legal for trafficking victims to reside legally in Poland.  The IRIS -– Partnership for Development, funded in part by the European Social Fund, helped female victims of trafficking re-enter the job market and raised public awareness of groups vulnerable to trafficking, forced labour and slavery.

However, the greatest focus was reserved for erasing discriminatory labour practices –- a widespread problem particularly for older Polish women.  Unemployment in Poland was among the highest in the European Union.  Ms. Kluzik-Rostkowska said the Department for Women, Family and Counteracting Discrimination of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy was promoting anti-discriminatory labour regulations, especially for women over aged 45, better opportunities for rural women and back-to-work programmes for new mothers.  It also spearheaded campaigns to combat gender stereotypes and promote women entrepreneurship.

While Committee experts applauded those efforts, several questioned the Polish Government’s justification for replacing the now defunct Government Plenipotentiary for Equal Status of Women and Men with the new Department run by the Labour and Social Policy Ministry.  They expressed concern over the emphasis on labour and employment, stressing that Poland’s main Government structure for women’s advancement should comprehensively address all aspects of the Convention. 

Experts noted that the country report lacked sufficient data on article 7 of the Convention concerning the role of women in political and public life, and they pressed the 20-member Polish delegation on the cause of the recent drop in the number of women Parliamentarians.

The debate also centred on the growing rate of divorce in Poland, and women’s rights in terms of alimony and asset allocation, as well as on family planning options for women, particularly for rural women.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 17 January to consider Viet Nam’s fifth and sixth periodic reports.

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women held parallel meetings today to take up the reports of Kazakhstan and Poland.  For background, see Press Release WOM/1589.

Chamber B -- Presentation of Poland’s Report

Poland’s delegation was headed by Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska, Under-Secretary of State of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and included:  Marek Ludwik Grabowski, Under-Secretary of State of the Ministry of Health; Nina Dobrzyńska, Director of the Department of Planning and Analysis of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development; Beata Laszczak, Plenipotentiary of the Minister of Defence; Anna Petroff, Deputy Director of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage; Monika Carmen Przygucka, Counsellor to the Minister of the Ministry of Health; Agata Furgala, Senior Specialist of the Department of Public Security of the Ministry of the Interior Affairs and Administration; and Lucyna Przybyla-Charnas, Senior Specialist in the European Integration Department of the Ministry of Finance.  The country’s delegation also included:  Maria Wasilewska, Senior Specialist in the Department of Women, Family and Counteracting Discrimination of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy; Iwona Banaczkowska-Luszcz, Specialist in the Department of Women, Family and Counteracting Discrimination of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy; Magdalena Korol, Expert of the Department of Social Insurance in the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy; Dorota Idzi, Expert in the Ministry of Sport, President of the Polish Women Sports Association and Vice President of the Polish Olympic Committee; Katarzyna Wencel, Legal Expert in the Ministry of Justice; Paulina Mucha, Expert in the Department of European Social Fund Management of the Ministry of Regional Development; Katarzyna Sloma, Referendary in the Department of Social Assistance and Integration of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy; Dagmara Wróbel, Interpreter; Aleksandra Niemirycz, Interpreter; Andrzej Towpik, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Poland to the United Nations; and Beata Pęksa-Krawiec, Minister-Counsellor and Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Poland to the United Nations.

Ms. KLUZIK-ROSTKOWSKA introduced Poland’s sixth periodic report (document CEDAW/C/POL/6), which outlined that country’s efforts to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women from 1 June 1998 to 31 May 2002.  She said, since obtaining full European Union membership in May 2004, Poland had begun to mainstream gender equality into all political strategies with the help of European Union funding.  Like its European Union neighbours, Poland was building harmonious male-female relations in all areas of public life.

She said that, in November 2005, the Department for Women, Family and Counteracting Discrimination of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy Department had replaced the Government Plenipotentiary for Equal Status of Women and Men.  The new Department focused on the lack of labour market access of Polish women, a serious concern in the country.  Older Polish women, in particular, faced discriminatory practices.  The Department’s women’s re-integration approach focused on promoting anti-discriminatory labour market regulations, better opportunities for rural women and back-to-work programmes for new mothers.  It also launched campaigns to combat gender stereotypes at home and work, particularly in rural communities, promote women entrepreneurship and protect women workers over age 45.  Department specialists participated in the work of several European Commission Committees and working groups, and were represented in the membership of the Council of Europe’s Working Group for the Equality of Women and Men.  The Department was also charged with promoting in Poland the European Union’s 2007 Equal Opportunity Year for All campaign.

She said that the 2005 Law on Counteracting Violence in the Family had set up regulations to evict perpetrators of violence and ban their subsequent contact with victims and witnesses.   Poland’s various public institutions were teaming up to reduce violence and support victims of violence through the National Programme to Counteract Domestic Violence and a programme to limit crime and anti-social behaviour through stronger partnerships between the police and citizens.  The Ministry of Justice had appointed a team to create standards of conduct in aiding crime victims, particularly victims of domestic violence and rape.

The 2007-2013 Daphne III programme, a European Union initiative, focused on ending and preventing violence –- including sexual abuse -- against children, juveniles and women, she continued.  Prevention of such violence and police prosecution of perpetrators was a top priority of the Polish police.  Statistics showed that the number of police visits to domestic violence victims was on the rise, as was the number of perpetrators detained or arrested.  That success was the result of mass media campaigns and police intervention.

Turning to the issue of trafficking in women, she said Poland had formed several bilateral cooperation agreements.  In May 2005, her country had adopted in Warsaw the Council of Europe’s Convention on efforts against trafficking in human beings.  Preparations were under way to ratify the Convention.  She noted that Polish police had participated in the Baltcom Task Force on Organized Crime of the Council of Baltic Sea States.  A recently created inter-ministerial Team to Combat and Prevent Trafficking in Humans had devised the 2005-2006 National Programme to Combat and Prevent Trafficking in Human Beings and was working on a similar programme for the 2007-2008 period.

She added that the April 2005 amendment to the Law on Aliens and adoption of other laws law to protect aliens made it possible for victims of human trafficking to obtain residence visas in Poland.  Further, the Ministry of the Interior and Administration and the La Strada Foundation were providing victims with safe shelters, medical care, psychological support and legal aid.  The IRIS -– Partnership for Development, funded in part by the European Social Fund, helped female victims of trafficking re-enter the job market and raised public awareness of groups at risk of becoming victims of trafficking, forced labour and slavery.

Concerning women’s health, she said public health and life expectancy for both men and women in Poland had been improving steadily since 1991.  The 1996-2005 National Health Programme comprised breast cancer screening programmes, programmes for early detection of cervical cancer and ovarian cancer treatment programmes.

In terms of social welfare, she said the 2004 Social Welfare Act focused on crisis intervention for individuals and families, particularly mothers of infants and pregnant women victims of violence.  The June 2003 law on social employment promoted social and occupational re-integration of socially marginalized women.  The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy had also devised several Government programmes to improve the quality of life of women within the social-welfare system. 

Experts’ Questions and Comments -– Articles 1-6

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, noting the combination of the fourth, fifth and sixth periodic reports, asked why Poland had delayed for 13 years reporting on its progress.  In connection with the preparation of Poland’s report, she noted that answers had not been received on whether the Government had cooperated with non-governmental organizations, particularly on the issues of gender equality.  Was the report presented to non-governmental organizations or the Polish Parliament?  It was the responsibility of the Government to send reports to the Committee, but it was also important to send it to Parliament.

On a constitutional level, it was clear that the Convention had been applied, as seen in its use by the courts.  However, she wondered what would happen in a case, for example, regarding the retirement age differences between men and women.  How was the Government putting its practice in line with the women’s Convention?

On the prohibition of discrimination, she noted a new chapter on the equal treatment of women and men in employment.  When Poland had presented the report in 2004 before the Human Rights Committee, that Committee noted that a non-discrimination provision had not been introduced into the legal system.  A non-discrimination clause was needed in all fields, including the economic and social spheres covered by the convention, not solely in the employment field.

ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, asked a question related to improving State mechanisms that dealt with women’s status.  There was now a new Women and Family Eradication of Discrimination Unit.  What was the Government’s perspective for changing the organizational set up?  Did the Unit have enough resources and power and how did it differ from its predecessors?  Did it have enough of a mandate to formulate policies?

MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked about the non-existence of legislation on equality.   Poland’s earlier proposals had been rejected twice, most recently in the Senate in 2005.  What was the status now of efforts to promote equality and to prohibit discrimination?  She said the second rejection had not been explained; it had only been noted that the bill had not been considered.  However, that bill had contained important issues, including equal opportunity in all spheres.  Why had it been rejected?  What was the understanding of Government and Parliament of the issues?

Regarding the National Action Plan, she noted Poland’s second stage of implementation for the 2003-2005 period; however, she wondered about plans for future periods and whether there would be an assessment of results.  It was a requirement of the Platform for Action that Governments adopt National Plans.

Regarding article 5 on existing stereotypes of sex roles in society, she said that, although the report acknowledged there were deeply rooted stereotypes in the areas of media, education and employment, no actions to counter those stereotypes had been outlined.  European Union initiatives had only been mentioned in the field of work and employment, not in a comprehensive manner.  Noting that stereotypes had consequences in public life and that there had been a decrease in women’s representation to elected bodies, she asked how the Government would address stereotypes in all areas.

SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, noting a current focus on women’s issues in the labour and employment sphere, asked who was responsible for women’s issues as a whole and about work on those issues under the Convention?  Similarly, she said efforts related to the advancement of women and the eradication of discrimination against women required working across ministries and with non-governmental organizations.  Did Poland have a high-level coordinating body to deal with interdisciplinary issues and across ministries?  If such a body did not exist, would its creation be feasible and possible?  On the creation of the National Plan of Action, she wished to learn more about who was involved.  Was the Plan comprehensive enough to address the breadth of issues?

On Poland’s data, had Poland developed impact indicators related to women and were they comprehensive?  Were they distributed among ministries?  How were general and women’s specific data collected and was that collection comprehensive?  Had there been sufficient gender analysis on trends and was it used for policy planning, monitoring and evaluation at the national and local levels?

Country Response

The Deputy Minister of Labour, responding for the Polish delegation, said it was true that in Poland there used to be a plenipotentiary of equal status for men and women.  The competences of that plenipotentiary were then directed to the Deputy Minister of Labour.  She had taken over responsibilities for all European Union programmes and funds to be used for implementation of the European Union programmes.  Those competencies were then expanded to include family issues.  It was true that the abolition of that office had raised doubts; however, reality showed a different situation.  One of the major discrimination problems was in the labour market.  One and a half years ago, Poland had a 19 per cent unemployment rate, the highest in the European Union, however that was not the only issue the Government was addressing in terms of women.

As Deputy Minister of Labour, she said she was responsible for various issues at the parliamentary level and her impact on structuring law was larger than when she had held the rank of plenipotentiary.  Now, she was able to follow up on issues in Parliament and had more possibilities to act.  As a plenipotentiary, she had been invited only to express opinion.

Polish law was quite good, as it had provisions in the Constitution that prohibited discrimination on any grounds, she said.  The labour code was undergoing changes, but provisions to protect women in the labour market existed and worked very well.  The problem was that Polish women did not know how to protect themselves, which was why the Government was focusing on educational programmes and media campaigns.  There was a need to change the mindset, not the law, and that would be a long process.

On equalizing the pensionable age for men and women, she said prolonging the pensionable age for women would bring benefits.  Women were better educated than men and data indicated that three fourths of students in post graduate programmes were women.  However, those approaching the pensionable age of 55 found it more difficult to find a job.  According to Government surveys of women on equalizing the pensionable age, many women were against the idea because they felt afraid of falling outside the labour market and being forced to live for 5-10 years on State benefits.  There was currently much discussion on how to deal with those issues.  Further, she said Poland had conducted research on the situation of women in different walks of life and was currently organizing another series of studies. 

On fighting discrimination, Poland was fortunate because the European Union had announced that 2007 would be the Year of Equal Chances for Everybody.  The Ministry of Labour was responsible for implementing that Year.  She appreciated the role of non-governmental organizations and was convinced that they were, at times, more effective than Government and other public structures.  Cooperation with them was important.  Those that dealt with fighting discrimination knew best where to direct their efforts for maximum effectiveness.  The Government had established a round table with them and all actions to be taken in 2007 were in full cooperation with the non-governmental organization community.  A preliminary programme on family policy would be subject to wide-ranging discussion in which non-governmental organizations would participate.

In explaining why Poland had not presented information at the United Nations for a long time, another representative discussed the process of submitting a report in Poland.  She noted that the legal system outlined inter-ministerial consultations.  Prior to submission, the report must be discussed by the Cabinet and other ministers.  The consultations with non-governmental organizations were not provided for in the legal system.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

TIZIANA MAIOLO, expert from Italy, asked what the Government had done to decrease stereotypes.  What did the Government intend to do with regard to the media?

FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, asking about how to counteract violence in the family, wondered how effective the law was when cruelty was not reported, due to tolerance in name of privacy and shame.  Police could issue a restraining order only under certain conditions.  Given that, how were women protected from violence at home?  She asked whether there had been any evaluation on the blue card system of preventing violence.  What measures had been taken to increase the number of shelters?  There was no mention of legal help or psycho-social counseling in the report.  Could the panel provide further explanation?

SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, asked about the bilateral agreement between Poland and the Czech Republic created in 2001.  What was contained in that agreement and how had it been implemented?  What were the achievements and remaining obstacles?  Could the panel discuss other bilateral multilateral agreements?  On the National Action Plan for the Prevention and Suppression of Trafficking, what was the Government’s approach for 2007 and beyond, particularly in the areas of policy, prevention, recovery and reintegration?  Did Poland have data available for the number of victims?  Regarding Polish law, she said Poland did not have an anti-trafficking law.  She wanted to know how Poland defined trafficking.  Did it use the definition created by the Palermo Protocol?

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, reiterated her question regarding the preparation of the combined fourth, fifth and sixth periodic reports.  She had asked for information on whether consultations with non-governmental organizations had taken place and had recommended that all committees send their reports to Parliament in order to raise the visibility of the whole Convention.

She further asked for data on women murdered per year in cases of domestic violence.  If police could not issue restraining orders, what did women do in cases of emergency when they needed immediate help?  Did the Government have data on the number of shelters for victims?  Were shelters located in all regions and were they supported by Government?  She also asked for information on whether Poland followed the Council of Europe Campaign to Combat Violence against Women in 2007-2008.

Country Response

Regarding stereotypical roles of men and women, a representative said the problem stemmed from the fact that women were always portrayed in domestic and family roles.  Equal opportunities for women in the labour market were crucial to countering those stereotypes.  People were increasingly aware that women were as competent employees as men.  Women were entering employment in professional-level jobs and men needed to participate more in child rearing.  It was difficult to convince advertisers to reflect and promote that change in mass media campaigns; however, Polish officials were making use of European Union funds to erase gender stereotypes.

In terms of violence against women, she said that, indeed, rural women were at greater risk.  Non-governmental organizations were crucial in reaching out to marginalized communities.  Polish officials were working to create a comprehensive, streamlined system so that teachers, law enforcement officers and other actors could detect cases of violence against women and respond faster to victims’ needs.  An important first step had been to make women, particularly in rural areas, understand that they were not to blame.  A Government survey under way aimed to reveal institutional perceptions of women and how women functioned as a group.  The survey’s results would be available in a few months.

Concerning trafficking of women, another delegate said article 253 of the Penal Code prohibited trafficking in humans.  Traffickers faced minimum prison sentences of three years.  Abductors of humans for prostitution also faced prosecution and sentencing.

The Palermo Protocol, she continued, provided for the first time a clear definition of trafficking in humans.   Poland applied the Protocol to all sexual harassment cases.  The 2007-2008 anti-trafficking plan would focus on the need to introduce a definition of trafficking in people into Poland’s Penal Code.  During 2003 and 2004, the Polish Government provided special recommendations to national prosecutors and judges on how to handle trafficking cases, including methodologies to be used.  In 2005, 26 judges and 36 prosecutors had received special training sessions on methodology, the European Union perspective on trafficking in humans and procedures for addressing victims.  During 2005 and 2006, work began to create a practitioners’ manual.

She said that, under the 2005 National Compensation Law, victims of violence and their families could apply for reimbursement of hospital or funeral expenses associated with the crime.  A crime prevention team was preparing special guidelines on how “first responders” should treat rape victims.  In addition, a nationwide crime victims assistance network had been launched in December 2006.  A programme to establish a custodian to support victims throughout criminal proceedings was under way.

Poland maintained statistics on the number of female victims of violence, rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment and human trafficking as well as data on the infringement of equal treatment of women and men.

Concerning the number of murdered women due to domestic violence, she said the Polish Government would add that statistical category if deemed necessary by the Committee.

Another country delegate said police procedures for tracking perpetrators of violence against women had been streamlined in 2002 and were constantly being improved.  During the period 2003 to 2006, 8,500 police officers had been trained on how to track and handle such cases.  All police reports and interventions concerning domestic violence cases were registered in the national “blue card” system, which police officers could access for background on a specific case.  In 2004, Poland’s Police Commander had set up a network of 24 plenipotentiaries for human rights in police stations and schools throughout the country.  The Government’s “safer together” partnership involving police and citizens aimed to further improve that cooperation between law enforcement and local communities.

Another country delegate said enforcement of the law concerning victims of domestic violence guaranteed them safe haven in shelters.  In 2006, 32 centres for domestic violence victims had been set up.  Since 2004, the number of women going to shelters had increased nine-fold.

Regarding police jurisdiction over domestic violence perpetrators, another representative said police could arrest a perpetrator for a maximum of 48 hours and could detain persons under the influence of alcohol for up to 24 hours. 

Experts’ Questions and Comments

FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Belgium, asked about the kinds of legal aid offered to victims.

HAZEN GUMEDE SHELTON, expert from South Africa, noted it was critical to ensure non-governmental organization participation in erasing stereotypes.  Was the Government working with and financially supporting non-governmental organizations to do that and if so what criteria were used to select one non-governmental organization over another?

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, asked why the Government maintained shelters specifically for single mothers and pregnant mothers.  What services were provided for other female victims of violence?

Country Response

Regarding non-governmental organization participation, a representative said the Government indeed recognized the value of and worked with all non-governmental organizations willing to cooperate on domestic violence prevention and assistance.  It organized competitions for grant money and awarded funds to those non-governmental organizations that submitted the best programme proposals.

Concerning gender stereotypes in the media, another delegate said the situation was not as bad as perceived.  She noted that an August 2005 survey revealed that there were more women press writers than men and that women were increasingly portrayed as professionals in television soap operas.  In April 2004, a code of ethics had been distributed to advertising agencies on banning all discrimination in advertising based on gender, race and religion.

On organized crime, another delegate noted that in March 2004 the Polish Prime Minister had appointed a team comprised of Government officials, prosecutors and members of the judiciary to combat trafficking in people.  That team, along with a supporting task force, had set up the 2005-2006 national programmes to end trafficking.  The 2007-2008 programme would focus on victimization of migrants and the issue of forced labour, slavery and trafficking in children.

In terms of legal aid to domestic violence victims, the delegate noted that a draft amendment aimed to extend aid access to poor women and families.  Victims’ counselling and legal aid assistance centres were being created, under the overall direction of non-governmental organizations.

Regarding services for female victims of violence who were not single mothers, another delegate noted that such victims could seek help from any of 138 crisis intervention centres.

Experts’ Questions and Comments –- Articles 7-8

AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, said it had been difficult to study the report’s results.  Statistical data from 2002 had been used.  Insufficient information had been received to properly assess article 7 and it was difficult to understand how women’s access to elected posts had evolved after 2002.

The number of female Senators had decreased.  She asked whether analysis had been produced to explain that drop.  The report noted that training measures had taken place to involve women in political life; however, why had so few women been seen in the high courts?  What specific action had been taken to ensure more participation?  Further, she asked what the situation was today regarding women’s posts in public civil service, particularly at the local and regional levels.

Ms. XIAOQIAO, expert from China, said regrettably, the report did not mention measures to promote women in political life, particularly in managerial life.  She asked to learn more about that issue, as well as about any Government measures to combat the low participation of women in high decision-making positions.  Further, the National Action Plan for Women’s second stage implementation for 2003-2005 provided measures to ensure equal participation in decision-making bodies.  Who or which department monitored the Plan’s implementation?  Had an evaluation of the Plan been conducted?

TIZIANA MAIOLO, expert from Italy, asked about the Government’s position on quotas and whether quotas would lead to greater representation of women in Parliament.

The Committee Chairwoman, FRANCOISE GASPARD of France, asked to see an update on the presence of women in local assemblies.  Knowledge about the presence of women in villages and towns was important for gender equality policies and raising awareness.

Country Response

On the need for further statistical information, the Polish representative said much had changed since 2002 and she would send more recent information to the Committee in writing.  On the participation of women in public life, she noted that the decrease in women represented in Parliament was not a significant decrease.

The issue of participation of women in public life was improving, she said.  All political parties had realized women were a key element of political life.  Women regularly had political careers at the local levels and generally stayed in power for about 12 years.  The fact that more women were needed in public life was a good signal.

The creation of a women’s party by a female writer had provoked public discussion and prompted women to join the party voluntarily.  It remained to be seen whether that party would join the next Parliament, but its creation would work for the benefit of all women, particularly those already established in public life.  Women currently held high-ranking positions; indeed, the Deputy Prime Minister of Poland was a woman.  On the courts, she said Parliament had a large number of women judges.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. XIAOQIAO, expert from China, asked whether special temporary measures would be taken to improve women’s participation in decision-making processes.  Further, what was the attitude regarding the quota system for women to take part in public life?

Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, noting an almost 10 per cent decrease in the number of women in the Senate, asked the panel to explain the drop.  Were there measures in place to counteract it?  A maintenance or increase over previous levels had been expected.

HAZEL SHELTON, expert from South Africa, reiterated the question about why there was such a drastic difference in percentages between women in the lower courts and those in higher courts.

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, noting that Poland was characterized by atmosphere of stereotypes, asked what the Government had done in the media to give women a better chance of being elected.  Were parties subsidized?  If so, and if women did not win elections, would those subsidies be pulled?

Country Response

The Polish representative said she would have been happy if Parliamentary elections had brought more women into Government, however, the Government could not impact what society had chosen.  She said she considered quotas a short cut and, given Poland’s circumstances, they could work to the detriment of society.  Training women to become engaged in public life would be beneficial.   Poland relied on the experiences of other countries following the same path of choosing broader participation of women in public life.

Noting there were 94 women in Parliament, 13 women in the Senate and 4 women ministers in Government, she said the country would like to see more women in those bodies.  Further, fewer children were being born in Poland and women were key to reversing that trend, she said.  Speaking about equality and convincing people that women should be equal was not enough.  More needed to be done for the functioning of society.

Experts’ Questions and Comments –- Articles 10-14

PRIMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, commending the delegation for its candid report, asked questions on articles 10 and 11 relating to education and employment.  Although more women were receiving higher education degrees, there were also severe drawbacks on the labour market.  There was occupational segregation.  She pointed out that concrete and result-oriented measures were lacking.  Within the education system, what steps were being taken by ministries to stimulate choices for women to take up non-traditional jobs, especially in science and technology?

Secondly, the first women’s study had been conducted in 1992.  She had understood that the Government had not supported such studies and that those studies were being funded by foundations.  Recently the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Human Rights Committee had expressed concern about the disparities in remuneration.  The panel had stated Government policy was in line with European Union regulations and that remuneration should be equalized gradually.  Had that equalization process started?

On preventing wage discrimination, was there a body that conducted job evaluation schemes?  Did the Government envisage the restructuring of wage structures in professions such as teaching and child care, with a view to increasing their status?

Ms. GASPARD, expert from France and Committee Chairperson, on the issue of education and involvement at university level, asked about studies regarding women and gender, as only a few activities had been created in that regard.  Combating discrimination required political determination and expertise.  Were there statistics on combating discrimination?  What was Poland doing to encourage training?

ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, on article 11, said the Labour Code had been reviewed to forbid discrimination on the grounds of gender.  However, a breach of anti-discrimination law did not constitute a crime.  Compensation in the event of unfair treatment placed the burden of proof on the employer.  In 2003, a survey had revealed that 50 per cent of respondents had experienced discrimination and one in eight women had felt they were being humiliated at work.  She wanted to know how many women had taken advantage of changes in the law to report discrimination at the workplace and the success rate of those women.  Following the 2003 survey, had data been collected on sexual harassment in the workplace?  Further, would legislation be tied to the results of the survey?

Ms. XIAOQIAO, expert from China, wondered about Poland’s transition in the field of employment.  The Government had taken various measures and priorities were outlined for more flexible forms of employment and to help women reintegrate into the labour market.  How many women and men had re-entered the labour market?  According to the report, some of the women engaged in the black market economy.  As age discrimination existed against women over the age of 50, what measures had the Government taken?  For example, were there ad hoc preferential policies to train those women?  If so, how many programmes had been conducted and how many women had benefited?  What kind of monitoring system existed in the field of employment, especially in cases of sexual harassment?

Country Response

A representative from Poland, noting that the representative from the Ministry of Education was not present, said answers on education would be provided in writing.  Pointing out that 75 per cent of people participating in life-long learning schemes were women, she said there was a need to translate solid education into promotion and advancement at work.  The family context was important in that regard.  In Poland, it was important for women to combine their family and work roles.  Feminized professions were poorly paid and a difficult labour market had forced men to assume some family roles and also take more feminine types of jobs.

Many women said they had been dismissed because they had been pregnant, or upon return from maternity leave.  However, it was the burden of the employer to prove that maternity was not the cause of dismissal.  Women needed to claim discrimination.  In most cases of discrimination, employers were to blame.  Women were successful in winning those cases, they needed more information on how to fight for their rights.

In 2004, an amendment to the Labour Code had been introduced to deal with sexual harassment at work and mobbing (employees taking unfair advantage of employees); however, Poland had a slow enforcement system.  Courts were working slowly and the Minister of Justice was working to improve that.  Further, it had been difficult to find attorneys willing to associate themselves with mobbing.  Poland’s population was almost 40 million and the country needed to raise awareness that mobbing was a crime.

Equal pay for equal work was also a problem, she said.  Women continued to earn 20 per cent less than male employees.  Again, the problem was in gathering good evidence of that phenomenon.   Poland had regulated pay schemes which defined the wage range of given positions, she said, however there was a problem of glass ceilings; women simply did not advance because of them.  In Warsaw, a woman had become mayor for the first time in the history of the city.  It was typical in the Government and in Warsaw itself that women were in charge of finance.

Other problems included Poland’s high unemployment rate, which made it difficult for employers to employ women in a flexible way.  She would like to establish preferential conditions for employing women.  For women approaching the pensionable age, their professional experience began to work against them, as they were not able to shift to another way of working.  The problem of reversing that demographic trend was a specific process.  Research had indicated that those women with worse education would like fewer children.  A key way to increase the number of children born was to provide a more equal status between women and men.  Laws could always be improved.

Another representative from the delegation responded to sexual harassment questions, noting that mobbing was penalized in the Labour Code.  Labour courts dealt with those issues.  Mobbing could be related to sexual harassment.  Data broken down by sex had been collected.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, said the report provided contradictory information on the minority Roma population.  The report noted that Roma girls aged 13 to 16 were already considered marriage material in their communities.  That was discriminatory.  Roma community representatives were likely men and unaware of such discriminatory views of women.  What was the main goal of the 2004-2013 programme in terms of addressing the needs of minority groups?  Did it have a gender dimension?

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, asked about how the drop in the number of rural clinics due to the restructuring of public health services had impacted rural women.  How could rural women access family planning services given that drop?  What were the results of the 2004-2006 national development plan in terms of improving pregnant women’s health and family planning services?  What kinds of contraceptives were used in rural versus urban areas?  She asked for clarification of family planning and abortion policies in Poland.  How many doctors had been suspended or fired because they refused to perform abortions?

PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked to what extent the Government was promoting and mainstreaming a gender perspective in all policies and programmes in rural areas.  She asked for data on rural women’s access to credit, banks and other financial institutions as well as on efforts to enhance rural women’s income-generating potential and access to land credit.

ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, asked for data on rural standards of living since 2002.  Why did young women in rural areas show little interest in local political organizations?  Why were they underrepresented there and what barriers did they face?

Why was the maternal mortality rate higher among rural women than urban women?  What efforts were being made to educate rural women about the importance of gynaecological care?  Did rural women have sufficient access to clinics?

FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, said the country report did not include gender disaggregated data on female heads of rural households and on rural women’s employment.  What policies was the Polish Government devising to eliminate discrimination and promote the advancement of women in rural areas?

Country Response

Concerning the Roma population, a delegate said Poland was very ethnically homogenous.  However that should change now that Poland had joined the European Union.   Poland prohibited marriage and removal from school of girls aged 13 to 16.  Schooling for girls was mandatory.  The Government was doing its best to reach Roma communities and get them to keep girls enrolled. 

Regarding healthcare for rural women, she said pregnant women did in fact have better gynaecological care in urban areas than in rural areas.  While rural women had access to family planning, it was more common in the countryside for women to refuse such services for religious reasons. 

Concerning rural women’s ownership rights, she said rural women did own property and land, often as co-owners with their husbands.  It was important to note that not all people in rural areas were employed in agriculture.  In many areas, farms were run by elderly people –- both men and women.  Younger people tended more to migrate to cities. 

She added that data on female heads of households in rural areas was not available because rural families did not pay taxes based on income.  Children in rural areas had fewer healthcare and educational opportunities than their urban counterparts.

Another representative said almost six million euros had been earmarked through 2006 for educational activities as part of the 2004-2013 programme.  She stressed that the focus was on keeping Roma children in schools. 

Another delegate noted that a task force of the Ministry of Health was working to improve access to healthcare services -– particularly gynaecological, dental and family planning services –- in rural areas.  All women received equal access regardless of their ability to pay.  A 2006 survey revealed that 63 per cent of all women in Poland were using contraceptives.  Rural women had the same access to contraceptives as urban women.

Concerning reproductive rights, another delegate said abortion was legal for women in cases of rape and when the pregnant woman’s health was in danger.  All women had the right to reproductive services.  Under the conscience clause, doctors could refuse to perform an abortion.  However, if all doctors in a hospital refused to do so, the hospital was required to have a contract with another healthcare facility willing to perform the procedure.  All doctors were obliged to perform abortions for women whose health was seriously imperilled by the pregnancy.  In such cases, the conscience clause could not be invoked as a reason for refusing to perform the procedure.

In all circumstances doctors were subject to the Penal Code’s provisions concerning abortion rights and the Professional Conduct Code. 

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, wondered about access to contraceptive methods.  She agreed women must be respected if they chose natural methods, but so should those wishing to use hormonal contraceptives.  What was happening with information collected through unofficial sources on limiting access to hormonal contraceptives?  What was the situation regarding the pending law in Parliament?

A representative of Poland said the pending law aimed at restricting access to contraceptives.  The League of Polish Families was a conservative party that wanted to focus on natural methods; however, it enjoyed only 2 per cent popularity.  Its views were not supported by society and the Ministry of Health had withdrawn from that idea quickly.

It was not true that access to contraceptives had been easier in the past.  The major problem was that some contraceptives were being reimbursed.  The Government and the balance of power in Parliament changed every four years and the question of reimbursement of contraceptives was question about the budgetary possibilities and Government priorities.  She said it was important to reimburse for various life-saving medications.

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, asked for the estimated number of illegal abortions.  Further, she wanted to know about the Ministry of Health’s promotion of natural family planning.  Did the Ministry promote all available contraceptive methods, including natural family planning?

Country Response

The representative of Poland said data on the number of legal abortions varied depending on the source.  Some estimates showed between 80,000 and 200,000 per annum, other sources between 30,000 and 40,000.  The exact figure was not the issue.  Every abortion was a tragedy and Poland must find solutions to that problem.  The State had been unable to provide adequate care for pregnant women who were alone.  That was the most serious problem and it remained the focus.   Poland must ensure women that the State would assist them.

On natural methods, she said she was against adopting such a programme.  While there was nothing wrong with family planning, it was worthwhile to promote it in the most effective way.  It was important to provide full information on all methods and measures.  She reiterated there had been no social or parliamentary support for ultraconservative views on natural methods.

Experts’ Questions and Comments -- Articles 15 and 16

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, referring to article 16 on marriage and family law, requested clarification on the report’s discussion of marriages that took place under the Concordat regime, a contract entered into by the Government and the Vatican.  In the document of 4 September 2003, in a section on Human Rights under the Polish Constitution, it was noted that relations between the Church and religious organizations were governed by laws developed by the Council of Ministers.  In addition to clarifying the Concordat, she wished to know whether the Civil Code would be applicable to everybody, whether they were Muslim, Lutheran or Jewish, for example.  Further, the fourth and fifth reports noted that those married under customary law could not make a joint tax declaration, which was a concern.

ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, said the fourth and fifth reports had highlighted a divorce rate of 7.3 per cent per 10,000 in 1993.  She was concerned that such a low rate was the result of a difficulty in accessing the courts.  The lack of funds and information on part of the woman was an important issue.  Did those conditions prevent women from initiating divorces?

Secondly, a divorce bill had been submitted.  What was the present status of that bill?  Had it become a law?  If it had not, when would that happen?  Had there been an increase since 1993 of the number of divorces?  Since custody of children generally had been awarded to women, did husbands pay alimony?  If so, for how long?  Did the wife receive 50 per cent of the husband’s assets or joint assets?  She also asked for statistics on the causes of divorce and the number of male and female petitioners.

Country Response

The representative from Poland said there was no discrimination regarding women’s faith or whom they married.  It was true that the Church was strong in Poland; Communism had existed for 45 years.  Regarding the Concordat, she said that during Communist times, most couples had to conduct a civil and a religious marriage ceremony.  Today, thanks to that contract, marriages in the Church were deemed complete.  That was the point.  There was complete separation between the Church and the State.

The number of divorce cases was growing, she said, and Poland had construed the law without consideration for family issues.  Polish law had included a provision on financial protection for single mothers, which in turn had induced a 200 per cent jump in the number of separations, many of which had been fictitious.  That situation was changing and regulations were being reviewed so as to not favour fictitious separation.

On child custody, she said there was a movement of fathers claiming rights to custody.  Courts dealing with family issues were feminized.  Often the judge was a woman.  That was why child custody was often given to women.  She would like to see fathers have more rights.

On alimony and the division of property, she said everything had depended on whether there was a statement of guilt, particularly by the husband.  If so, he had to provide alimony to the woman and the children.  If the guilt of either party had not been determined, alimony was granted to the children, as it was important for their social status not to decrease after a divorce.  In 2004, a law which included an alimony fund had been replaced by one with an alimony advance.  As many single mothers were dissatisfied by that change, the Government was currently working to reinstitute the alimony fund.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.