|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
Chamber A, 767th & 768th Meetings (AM & PM)
gender equality legislation, anti-trafficking efforts among issues raised
As Women’s anti-discrimination committee takes up report of Greece
Secretary-General for Gender Equality Presents,
Says Gender Equality Issues Now Part of National Strategic Planning
The Committee charged with monitoring the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women took up the report of Greece today, with expert members highlighting the country’s legislation to promote gender equality, trafficking in women, gender violence, equality in the workplace and the situation of minority and vulnerable women.
The Committee was considering Greece’s sixth periodic report in Chamber A. Greece ratified the Convention in 1983 and was one of the first 22 countries to ratify the Optional Protocol in 2001.
Presenting the country’s report, Eugenia Tsoumani, Greece’s Secretary-General for Gender Equality, in the Ministry of Interior, Public Administration and Decentralization, outlined important institutional, legislative, administrative and social developments during the period under review. In particular, as a result of a 2001 revision of the Greek Constitution, the Government had an enshrined obligation to take positive measures as a means for the achievement of real equality and the elimination of discrimination against women. The country had also established a compulsory one-third minimum quota for either sex in electoral lists for local elections and for collective bodies of all governmental agencies.
She said gender equality issues had been a matter of national strategic planning, linked to priorities of development, employment, education and social cohesion. She also reported on the 2006 law on violence against women and measures to deal with trafficking in human beings. An integrated national plan for action and a new legal framework against trafficking included cooperation among law enforcement officials, protection for victims and strengthened interaction with countries of origin, destination and transit. Together with civil society, the Government was making tremendous efforts to comply with the best practices of international organizations and other Governments, seeking to bring together the “three Ps” -- prevention, prosecution and protection. The results had been encouraging, but organized crime managed to stay a step ahead, providing incentives to victims and discouraging them from coming forward.
While complimenting the Government for its anti-trafficking efforts, an expert said that the system was not working for victims, many of whom were repatriated before the trial. Thus, the drivers of trafficking were not experiencing the full force of the Greek laws. Several experts also asked for an assessment of the situation with prostitution, which was not prohibited, but regulated in Greece -- a popular tourist destination.
Another expert noted that, according to a report by Amnesty International, the rights of victims were being compromised both in law and in practice, as far as violence against women was concerned. The law was based on a philosophy that placed the preservation of the family over the rights of the victim.
In that connection, several experts expressed serious concern about the new procedure of mediation in domestic violence cases, cautioning that it might allow perpetrators to escape justice. One expert pointed out that, while the intentions for that initiative were good, the Government should monitor the implementation of mediation very carefully. Her concern was that the process of mediation was not initiated by the victim, but by the prosecutor. It was only after the perpetrator had agreed to accept mediation that the victim was asked to agree to the procedure. A victim in that situation might feel pressured to agree to the conditions imposed, especially if she was financially dependent on the perpetrator.
In response, a member of the delegation said that mediation had been introduced into law only for misdemeanours and not crimes. It was a new law and it was premature to anticipate its positive or negative implications. The Government’s task was to ensure its proper application and to do its utmost to note the weak points of the law. An evaluation that was due in three years would allow the Government to see what improvements were needed.
In connection with negative stereotypes that were still dominant in Greek society, an expert suggested that, in addition to media programmes, sensitization and training, the Government needed to address the causes of inequality. Towards that end, she proposed that the country’s research centre for gender equality carry out studies on specific manifestations of stereotypical ideology; the negative impact of differential roles and responsibilities on women and men; the costs of placing the burden of homemaking solely on women; the monetary value of women’s unpaid labour; and all institutional rules that gave privileges to men.
Several experts expressed serious concern about the family situation of the country’s Muslim minority women, who lived according to strict sharia, under which the right of divorce belonged only to the husband, and a woman must be listed as a certified virgin in marriage documents. They stressed, in that connection, that the Government had to safeguard the rights of those women, as it was obliged to do as a State party to the Convention.
A member of the delegation agreed that respect for tradition could not justify restrictions or lowering of standards in the human rights field. Members of the Muslim community were free to refer to either their local Muftis or the civil courts for their family matters. In case they chose the Mufti, sharia was implemented only to the extent that its rules were not in conflict with the Greek constitutional order. Polygamy, underage marriages and marriage by proxy were not permitted in Greece.
The Committee will take up Suriname’s reports in Chamber A at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 25 January.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met in Chamber A this morning to take up Greece’s sixth periodic report (document CEDAW/C/GRC/6). Greece ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1983 and was one of the first 22 countries to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention in 2001.
Introduction of Report
Greece’s delegation, headed by Eugenia Tsoumani, Secretary-General for Gender Equality, Ministry of Interior, Public Administration and Decentralization, also included Stamatina Yannakourou, Special Legal Adviser to the Secretary-General for Gender Equality, General Secretariat for Gender Equality, Ministry of Interior, Public Administration and Decentralization; and Ifigenia Katsaridou, Director-General, Research Centre for Gender Equality.
Also participating in the delegation were: Eleftheria Yannakou, First Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Greece to the United Nations; Alexandros Vidouris, Second Secretary, Permanent Mission of Greece to the United Nations; Georgia Alexopoulou, Expert on Gender Equality Issues, Ministry of Interior, Public Administration and Decentralization; Ellas Kastanas, Rapporteur, Special Legal Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Heracles Moskoff, Expert, International Development Cooperation Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Presenting the report, Ms. TSOUMANI, Secretary-General for Gender Equality, said that, in the legislative sphere, following a 2001 revision of the Greek Constitution, for the first time the Government had an enshrined obligation to adopt positive measures as a means for the achievement of real equality and the elimination of discrimination against women. According to the report, also in 2001, the country established a compulsory one-third minimum quota for either sex in electoral lists of local elections and for collective bodies of all governmental agencies.
Among other notable advancements, she also mentioned the efforts to combat trafficking in women. Since 2004, Greece had been implementing an integrated national plan for action against trafficking in human beings, aimed at screening, identifying, protecting and assisting the victims, as well as giving relevant support to the countries of origin through prevention and reintegration programmes. The new legal framework against trafficking qualified relevant acts as criminal offences, mostly felonies. Severe punishment for perpetrators had been established, as well as effective protection and assistance to victims. Granting of a residence and work permit had been facilitated by law.
A recent law on equal treatment of women and men in the field of employment tackled sexual harassment as a form of discrimination, she continued. Special regulations for the improvement of civil servants’ parental leave in favour of men would be promoted under the new Civil Servants’ Code that was being discussed in the Parliament. New mechanisms for the advancement of women included a permanent Parliamentary Committee on Equality and Human Rights and a National Committee for Equality between Men and Women. An Ombudsman -- an independent authority -- was entrusted with monitoring the implementation of equal treatment of men and women in employment, both in the public and private sectors. A special department for gender equality would soon be created within the office of the Ombudsman. The General Secretariat for Gender Equality had been strengthened, with a significant increase in personnel.
Regarding the efforts to eliminate negative stereotypes concerning the role of men and women, she said that educational process and sensitization of parents were among the Government’s most important tools. A programme for sensitization of public school teachers had been launched, with a total budget of 25 million euros. Libraries were being enriched with relevant material in all public schools of technological education. Another significant programme, entitled “Equal partners -- reconsidering the role of men in work and private life”, had been recently completed within the scope of the fifth medium-term Community Action Plan of the European Commission for Gender Equality. Special training programmes were also being implemented throughout Greece in the so-called “parents’ schools” that were first created in 2003. Quotas unfavourable to women had recently been abolished with regard to their admission to police and fire brigade academies and recruitment as border guards.
Concerning employment, she said that the women’s employment rate had increased from 43 per cent in 2004 to 46.5 per cent in 2006. As for women’s unemployment, despite a downward trend, the percentage still remained higher than the numbers for men, standing at 13 per cent in the third quarter of 2006. Female employment constituted a priority for the Government and was a special objective of Greece’s National Reform Programme for 2005-2008. In all training for the unemployed, a quota of at least 60 per cent had been set in favour of women. The Government was also taking proactive measures, in cooperation with the private sector and employers’ associations, in order to reduce the pay gap, which had reached 10 per cent in Greece.
Regarding minority women, she said that, since 2002, Greece had been implementing an action plan for social integration of the Greek Roma. Some 728 Roma women had participated in the programmes of social integration and 70 Roma women had been subsidized so that they could create small individual companies. Moreover, 715 Roma women had participated in programmes facilitating their integration into the labour market, and 1,200 Roma people had been trained in 2005-2006 in Adult Education Centres, 83.5 per cent of them women. Female members of the Muslim minority of Thrace were beneficiaries of various programmes addressing their education and employment. Legislation provided for a special quota of 0.5 per cent for the admission of minority students to higher education institutions. As a result of those policies, there was equal participation at the primary and secondary education levels.
The Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs was implementing programmes on health education in schools, she continued. Some 70 experts in charge of health education had been appointed to the 58 Directorates of Primary and Secondary Education, to coordinate and support those programmes and train teachers. Some 4,500 health education programmes were being carried out annually. During the current school year, a training programme on sexually transmitted diseases was being implemented. Lectures on contraception methods were given in over 100 schools.
In conclusion, she said that the Greek Government attributed great importance to the promotion of gender equality. Since 2001, those issues had become a matter of national strategic planning, in accordance with the Beijing Programme of Action. The country’s integrated strategy for 2004-2008 linked gender issues to the national priorities of development, employment, education, and social cohesion.
As the Committee began its consideration of Greece’s report, experts focused on the issue of Greece’s national machinery for the advancement of women and gender equality, including the role and function of the newly established bodies within the Government. Experts also asked about measures to change negative stereotypes of women, as well as legal efforts to stem violence against women. Several experts requested more information on the status of vulnerable women, including Roma, Muslim and minority women.
CEES FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, noted that the Committee had held its last constructive dialogue with Greece less than five years ago. At that time, Greece had just ratified the Optional Protocol. The Committee had not, however, received any communications from Greek women or non-governmental organizations. While that might be due to not having exhausted national remedies, it could also be a result of the costs involved in court proceedings and a lack of awareness regarding women’s rights under the Convention. He also wondered how the new law on equal treatment had impacted women. In particular, he wanted to know how easy it was for women to access the Greek courts and if a legal aid system existed for them. He also asked about the existence of training programmes for members of the judiciary system. Since the Committee’s discussion with Greece in 2002, had any cases of Greek domestic courts referred explicitly to the Women’s Convention?
He added that he had had some concerns about the Convention’s visibility within the Greek legal order. He was pleased to learn that the Committee’s concluding comments had been translated into Greek and widely circulated. He was also pleased that non-governmental organizations had been closely involved in the report’s preparation. He asked for additional information on whether the Committee’s general recommendations, which shed light on its interpretation of the Convention, had been translated into Greek.
Turning to Greece’s Constitution, he noted that article 116, paragraph 2 of the Constitution, adopted in 2001, was an important new provision, providing for positive measures. That article had been adopted before the Committee’s adoption of article 25.4.1 of the Convention, which provided for special temporary measures. According to the report, the Council of States said that article 116, paragraph 2 allowed for positive measures in all fields of human rights, including political rights. Could the delegation elaborate on the interpretation of special temporary measures as contained in article 116? he asked.
RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, said she was a little confused as to the actual structure and the various national entities for the advancement of women and the promotion of gender equality. Her confusion had been somewhat eased, however, by the more detailed description in the delegation’s answer to that question. She did, however, want more information on the establishment of the National Committee for Gender Equality, which was described as a forum to promote dialogue between governmental mechanisms and civil society. She also wanted to know if the Gender Equality secretariat was an independent ministry or a sub-ministry. Did the secretariat have a guaranteed independent budget by law? In that regard, she asked for exact figures in terms of the percentage allocated to the secretariat, as compared to other budgetary allocations.
Continuing, she commended the Government for making significant strides in improving women’s rights by passing legislation. She also appreciated the delegation’s frankness. She was concerned, however, regarding persistent gaps with respect to international indicators, which showed that something was not working with regard to Greece’s national plans for the promotion of women. Gaps also existed in terms of more vulnerable minority women, including Roma, Muslim or immigrant women. Did the Government have a specific plan with regard to those groups?
SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, addressed the issue of stereotypes and violence against women, commending measures taken regarding stereotypes in education. She also commended the code of ethics in the mass media, by which advertising spots were not allowed to include discrimination based on gender, race, religion or nationality. She asked the delegation to elaborate on the code, including whether it had changed the image of women in the media.
While she commended the 2006 law on violence against women, she noted that, according to shadow reports, particularly a report by Amnesty International, the rights of victims were being compromised both in law and in practice. The law was based on a philosophy that placed the preservation of the family over the rights of the victim. She highlighted three areas of concern, namely judicial arbitration, restraining measures and budgetary provisions.
VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, also asked for more information on Greece’s national machinery for the advancement of women. The United Nations had always recognized institutional mechanisms as essential instruments for Governments in fulfilling their obligation to eliminate all forms of discrimination and achieve substantive gender equality at the highest level. Noting that a gender equality office had been established in one ministry, she wondered if the Government planned to introduce units or focal points within each ministry or at least the most relevant ones in terms of women’s issues. Regarding the National Committee for Equality between Men and Women, she asked if that Committee was envisaged as a permanent forum for ensuring effective communication between the State and civil society. She had also learned that the new structure was not yet operational. Asking if that information was correct, she also wanted to know which competent ministries would be represented in the Committee and what the criteria would be for selecting representatives to the Committee.
Responding to those comments, a member of the delegation said that there had been no communications to the Committee in connection with the Convention’s Optional Protocol. There was a general reluctance among citizens use to bodies outside the national framework. Greece’s legislation favoured the victims of discrimination, who could ask for reparations covering material and moral damages. There were compulsory courses on human rights at all law schools, and all professors were familiar with all the international human rights instruments, including the Women’s Convention. The Convention had also been presented at the community level. The Council of State, in its jurisprudence, constantly referred to the Convention, which was used as a legal basis for its decisions.
In response to several other questions, she said that, regrettably, the Committee’s general recommendations had not been translated into Greek. The National Committee for Equality between Men and Women had been institutionalized and established since the submission of the report. With regard to Government structures, the General Secretariat for Gender Equality -- as an administrative unit -- had been strengthened. Within the framework of the reports that Greece presented to the European Community, the country had established coherent measures for all vulnerable groups. A special plan for third country nationals was being elaborated.
There was a “quite good, but not perfect” budget of about 3 million euros annually for the national machinery for the advancement of women, Ms. TSOUMANI added. A delegate also explained that the term “special temporary measures” was being interpreted by the State in accordance with the Convention.
Mediation in criminal affairs fully protected the rights of the victim, she added. It was an innovative measure that was voluntary and applied only to crimes that were qualified as domestic violence. The objective of this measure was to assist women requesting aid without denunciation of the act, thus avoiding criminal procedures. Women in Greece were very reluctant to go to the competent authorities in cases of domestic violence, because they feared that their husbands would be imprisoned and they would lose income. Mediation established a procedure to address violence without that threat.
In the next round of questions, the experts focused on violence against women, trafficking in human beings, and negative sexual stereotypes, asking what measures were being taken to assure that judges were adequately trained to apply the laws and take into account the gender implications of the legislation. Questions were also asked about statistics regarding cases that had gone to mediation, and the number of perpetrators of domestic violence who had gone to jail.
DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, returned to the issue of mediation, saying that, while the intentions for that initiative were good, it had to be viewed with great caution. With women being generally reluctant to report cases of violence, when violence was actually reported, it had usually already got to the stage where they wanted the perpetrator sanctioned. From her point of view, the procedure was more favourable to the perpetrator than the victim. Her concern was that the process of mediation was not initiated by the victim, but by the prosecutor, who made a decision on what cases were appropriate for judicial mediation and then asked the perpetrator to accept mediation, on the conditions that he would promise not to engage in domestic violence again and pay adequate compensation to the victim. It was only after he had agreed that the victim was asked to agree to the procedure. A victim in that situation was under a lot of pressure, especially if she was financially dependent on the perpetrator, and she might feel pressured to agree to the conditions imposed. That might not be what she wanted in the first place. The Government should monitor the implementation of mediation very carefully, to avoid allowing perpetrators to escape justice.
GLENDA SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, complimented the Government for the measures it had put in place to deal with trafficking. However, from other sources, the experts knew that the system was not working for victims, many of whom were repatriated very quickly, before the trial. Thus, the drivers of trafficking were not meeting the full force of the Greek laws. Also, State funding to non-governmental organizations dealing with trafficking had dried up. She wanted to know if the Government had evaluated its strategies on trafficking. She also asked for an assessment of the situation with prostitution, which was not prohibited, but was regulated in Greece.
FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, also focused on prostitution, noting that Greece was a very popular tourist destination. She wanted to know if there was specific legislation regulating prostitution and asked about measures to prevent migrant workers from being lured into prostitution. The Government had taken many measures to address trafficking, but many women were involved in the tourist business. Were there any surveys to assess the risk for Greek women and girls to be exposed to the danger of being trafficked or exposed to exploitation?
SHANTI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, addressed the question of stereotypical values that contributed to the gap between the laws and the real situation of women in Greece. Sensitization and training helped to address that problem, but such programmes alone were not enough. The causes of inequality needed to be addressed. She wondered about the activities of the research centre for gender equality, proposing that it should carry out research on: specific manifestations of stereotypical ideology; the negative impact of social ascription of differential roles and responsibilities to women and men; the costs of placing the burden of home-making solely on women; the monetary value of women’s unpaid labour; and all institutional rules that gave privileges to men. She also wanted to know if there were special temporary measures to encourage men and women to enter into non-traditional areas of occupation.
NAELA GABR, expert from Egypt, asked about the situation of women and minors in prisons. She also wondered if women’s complaints against their bosses affected their employment, considering the country’s high unemployment rate.
Regarding mediation issues, a member of the delegation said it was true that it was not a question of extrajudicial mediation, but judicial mediation in line with Greece’s legal tradition. She agreed that much attention should be given to the implementation of the mediation provision. As the law had only recently entered into force, she could not yet provide figures on its implementation. The law would, she believed, fill a legal gap. The Ministry of Justice was preparing an administrative circular on elements for interpreting the law.
Regarding assistance measures to the victims of violence, she said assistance to victims was established within a gender equality framework. Gender equality research centres were not concentrated in the capital, but were also in the various regions. A new municipal code provided for assistance to victims. The code was in conformity with international trends to involve local communities in assisting victims. A new code was being prepared which would establish not-for-profit partnerships with non-governmental organizations, which would provide for assistance and shelters for victims.
Ms. TSOUMANI underlined her Government’s strong political will in favour of women in relation to the procedure. During the preparation of the law, the Government had consulted with non-governmental organizations, as well as the national human rights committee. The Government would monitor the procedure closely.
Regarding the centre on research for gender equality, another speaker said the centre functioned under the control of the Secretary-General for Equal Opportunity. The centre’s role was to support governmental policies and programmes, as well as to ensure equal opportunities in the political, economic, social and political sectors. The centre, among other things, carried out public campaigns and organized seminars and conferences throughout Greece. The centre cooperated nationally with other governmental bodies, as well as other European and national bodies. The centre ensured that the commitments entered into by the Government were fulfilled. They also cooperated with different universities.
Regarding stereotypes and the image of women in the media, she said article 4 of the Ethics Code for television and broadcasting forbade messages with sexist and sectarian opinions. Respect for ethnic or religious minorities was compulsory. The national radio and television council had intervened, issuing sanctions and stopping certain broadcasts. Other projects were carried out, including programmes to raise awareness for professionals and young journalists and training for women professionals in the media. In the context of changing stereotypes in schools, a large project was being carried out in the schools with a very significant budget.
On the issue of trafficking, Ms. TSOUMANI said the Government had worked to provide leadership in the fight against trafficking, gradually creating a solid legal basis for confronting what was a modern form of slavery. The Government had enhanced efforts to respond to the problem, including cooperation among law enforcement officials, protection for victims and strengthened cooperation with countries of origin, destination and transit. Government and civil society were cooperating on a comprehensive national action plan to combat trafficking in human beings. The national plan addressed all levels of counter-trafficking action. Recognizing the extent of efforts to combat trafficking, the United States State Department had upgraded Greece’s position, classifying it as a tier-two strategy. That change had been the result of Greek efforts to combat the phenomenon of trafficking.
Another delegate, providing an overview of counter-trafficking in Greece, said the Government and civil society were making tremendous efforts to comply with the best practices of international organizations and other Governments. It was a joint endeavour, with considerable input from non-governmental organizations and international organizations. It was also a challenge from a legal and political point of view, as well as from a popular culture perspective, as it had to do with values, norms and stereotypes. The committee that monitored the national action plan consisted of many competent ministries, as well as the International Organization for Migration and some 12 non-governmental organizations. The Government sought a comprehensive approach, bringing the “three P’s”, namely prevention, prosecution and protection, into the policy. Although the results had been encouraging, Greece had not managed to crack down on the problem. It was a complex issue involving organized crime and human rights. Organized crime managed to stay a step ahead, providing incentives to victims and discouraging them from coming forward.
He said the Government also granted considerable money to non-governmental organizations -- almost 5 million euros in the last two years -- for shelters, legal support and projects to raise awareness. Seminars and education projects were carried out in some 34 cities. A database was an important part of the strategy. While it was not easy to monitor the situation, considerable efforts were being made and all the competent members of the national action plan contributed to the database. Many legal provisions also existed, targeting demand in accordance with directives included in Council of Europe resolutions and other international instruments. An agreement had been signed with many Greek tourist industries in an effort to counter trafficking.
Responding to the issue of stereotypes, Ms. TSOUMANI said stereotypes constituted a basic cause of active discrimination in everyday life. Combating stereotypes was one of the four main parts in Greece’s action plan. In the last period, many programmes had been carried out, including on women and family roles.
Another member of the delegation said the Greek Government accorded great importance to changing stereotypes, especially in the context of the family. Intervention programmes were carried out in the schools. The Centre for Research on Gender Equality also carried out various programmes, with the objective of promoting equality in secondary education. In particular, programmes focused on creating awareness among teachers. Outlining activities in 2002-2008, she said some 78 programmes would be carried out with the participation of over 8,000 public school teachers. The objective was to identify differences in the educational system and to provide a critical overview of the way gender was illustrated in educational materials.
She stressed that the number of male teachers had increased to 43 per cent in 2006. Starting next year, the pilot project would be expanded to a greater number of schools. Another project related to the role of men in the family, promoting equal partnership between men and women.
Prostitution was regulated in Greece, Ms. TSOUMANI added, and the users were not punished. Perpetrators of trafficking were punished, however.
In a round of follow-up questions, the experts focused on the remedies available to Greek women in the courts of the country, the role of the media in combating stereotypes, and the situation of trafficked women, particularly those belonging to most vulnerable groups.
Once again returning to the mediation procedure, Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, said that she had to insist that mediation was “a no”. International consensus and all research indicated that it worked to the detriment of the victim.
Responding, a member of the delegation said that mediation had been introduced into law only for certain acts, which were misdemeanours and not crimes. It was a new law and it was premature to anticipate its positive or negative implications. The Government’s task was to ensure its proper application and to do its utmost to note the weak points of the law. An evaluation that was due in three years would allow the Government to see what improvements were needed. Aside from mediation, the Government’s new violence law had, for the first time, introduced stricter penalties for acts that were already qualified as criminal offences under the Criminal Code; classified rape within marriage as a criminal offence; covered non-marital cohabitation between men and women; and forbade physical violence as a disciplinary measure against minors. Now, it was important to make the public aware of the new laws.
Regarding Ms. PIMENTEL’s query regarding the situation of women coming to Greece from Bulgaria to give birth, whose babies were subsequently sold for adoption, a member of the delegation said that the police had launched a big campaign to address that issue, with encouraging results. There had been a crackdown on some of the networks involved in that practice. Recognizing the problem, the Ministry of Justice had put into place a drafting committee that would review legislation concerning adoption. There was a big demand for adoption, and organized crime was always willing to fill the gaps.
As the Committee turned to women’s participation in public life, Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, stressed the Government’s responsibility in that respect, asking if measures had been taken to ensure full participation of women on an equal footing with men in Government structures. The newly introduced legal measures, providing for at least one third women’s participation, were commendable, and she wanted to know about the results of their application. She also asked about the application of the new regulations relating to local elections, saying that, according to certain sources, the new laws had actually limited the number of women to 30 per cent of eligible positions. Her other questions related to sanctions for non-compliance with the quotas and the reasons for women’s low representation in the Parliament. She asked if there were any serious initiatives to introduce quotas for parliamentary elections.
HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, commended the Government for its impressive work since 2002. The Government had demonstrated very strong political will and commitment and much progress had been made. This morning’s constructive dialogue had gone very well. Regarding article 7, she asked about women’s participation in military service. She appreciated the fact that the Government had a close relationship with the non-governmental organizations, especially in efforts to fight violence and trafficking. Which non-governmental organizations would be receiving part of the 5 million euros over two years? Was the Government supporting women’s organizations in that area? Women should be active members of “mixed” non-governmental organizations, as well as other associations, including trade unions, as both members and leaders.
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said he was surprised that no quota had been set for parliamentary elections, asking if the Council of State had been asked for advice on the question of whether quotas for parliamentary elections would be compatible with article 116.2 of the Constitution.
Responding to those questions, Ms. TSOUMANI said it was true that women’s political participation was rather low. The new code aimed at rationalizing the implementation of the current system and did not lead to restrictions. The new provision was technical, only. Regarding elections, she said there had been a remarkable increase in the number of female mayors elected. Given the large number of candidates, data on the number of women elected in general was not yet available. There were many reasons to explain women’s low level of participation, including powerful stereotypes, severe difficulties in reconciling work and family life, a lack of specific know-how regarding the demands of the political field and a lack of communication skills and resources necessary for a political campaign. The Government had started to elaborate on training programmes for women. An important tool was the training manual on communication skills for women in politics. Another issue was the need to overcome stereotypes in the mass media.
Regarding parliamentary quotas, another member of the delegation said there were sanctions with regard to laws concerning quotas in favour of women. According to the 2000 law, women were to make up one third of the staff of administrative bodies. If those provisions were not respected, the decisions coming from those bodies could be annulled. Regarding the 2006 law, municipal and prefectural elections lists that did not take into account the one-third quota system were not legally valid. Women were full and equal members in all trade unions, including in leadership positions. The number of women in higher levels of trade union structures was low, however.
She added that the Council of State had already looked at the constitutionality of the law that was considering a one-third quota for women in elections for prefectures and municipalities. There was no constitutional obstacle with regard to quotas. Quotas were considered to be positive measures protected by the Constitution.
It was a fact that women were underrepresented in the diplomatic corps, another speaker said. The first two women had been admitted to the diplomatic service in 1968 following a court ruling. In the following two to three decades, only a few women had chosen to become diplomats. According to the latest data, some 252 men and 14 women were diplomats. The picture was, however, more optimistic in terms of young diplomats. She hoped to see the number of women ambassadors dramatically increase in the next 10 years.
In the Greek legal system, there was a principle of equality and freedom of association, another member of the delegation said. Thus, the Government could not interfere directly in that area. Clearly, efforts were being made to motivate the associations and trade unions to promote women, but the Government could not force them.
As the Committee turned to education and health, questions were asked about the percentage of women, particularly Muslim and other minority women, in life-long education programmes, the absence of quotas in the system of higher education, the incidence of cervical cancer, as well as access to assisted delivery and prenatal services, breast examinations and pap smears.
Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, said that, according to the report, it was difficult to collect information on the use of contraceptives and other health-related behaviour. However, there were alternative sources of information, according to which there was a very high rate of abortions in Greece, with about 25 per cent of pregnancies ending in abortion. The rates were also very high among teenagers. She saw a link between low use of contraceptives and abortion. She also commented on the high rate of caesarean sections, saying that it was important to see if women were being pressured into accepting the operations, to make life easier for the doctors and more profit for the medical practitioners. She wondered if regulations were in place to ensure ethical behaviour of doctors in that regard.
Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked for clarification in connection with the Government’s assertion that women did not make much use of State family planning services, preferring to go to private doctors and clinics instead.
Ms. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, wanted to know about health services for Roma, Muslim and other minority women. Were they informed about the dangers of communicable diseases? She also noted that the non-Greek speaking population amounted to about 10 per cent of the total, and asked if those people could access health services in their own languages.
Regarding life-long education, a member of the delegation stressed that it was considered to be very important in Greece. Activities in that area included literacy programmes, development of basic aptitudes, professional training, consultative support, organization of seminars and scientific days. There were also schools for parents, Greek language courses for immigrants and computer training classes.
The Government had considered the question of quotas for higher-education, a country representative said. However, it could present a problem from a constitutional point of view.
Regarding Roma women, another member of the delegation reported that there had been four classes for Roma women at the centres of adult education in 2005-2006. Several other classes, in which Roma women participated, provided information regarding social responsibility and employment. There were also programmes on Greek language and culture and consultative support. The main goal of the “second-chance” schools was to develop basic and social skills and improve chances to enter the labour market. A growing number of Roma women attended those classes.
On health, Ms. TSOUMANI agreed that there was not enough information regarding the use of contraceptives. As for the doctors’ behaviour, of course, there was a medical code of conduct, but it was not oriented towards women’s issues. There was a lack of family planning, but the Ministry of Education had undertaken a programme of general health education in schools. There was a programme of 70 experts who coordinated and supported sexual education programmes. Gender relations, sexual education and sexually transmitted diseases were among the subjects. Educational materials had been produced for two age groups to complement education in secondary schools. Also, teachers could introduce health-related issues in their classes.
A study was under way on women’s diseases, including HIV/AIDS and cancer, another delegation member said. An awareness campaign had also been carried out for women in more remote regions, at a cost of over 1 million euros.
Another member of the delegation added that the Ministry of Health had implemented several programmes for Greek Roma, including medical services in Roma settlements and the access of Greek Roma to the Greek health sector. Some 20 centres were already functioning and more would be opened. A social services network would be implemented in over 150 municipalities around the country. Roma women were a target group of the programme. Mobile units also provided psychological support for Greek Roma. In 2005, some 400 Roma women had undergone cancer screening tests. The Ministry of Health had implemented a pilot programme on Greek Roma health and social integration. Instructions on contraceptives had also been given.
Turning to the article 11 of the Convention, Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, commended the Government for the new law on the implementation of the principle of gender equality at work. While it had been only five or six months since the law had been implemented, she had several questions, including how the Labour Inspectorate was expected to work and whether women had reported any acts of discrimination. Also, did women have to report sexual harassment to the Labour Inspectorate or did she report to someone at her workplace? She also wondered if minority women were aware of the new law. While much effort had been made to set up childcare centres, she wondered if childcare centres satisfied the entire need for those services. She also asked for information on parental leave, which reinforced existing stereotypes. It should be up to the family who used parental leave.
Continuing, she said laws seemed to have benefited mostly women at the top. Problems continued, including a very high unemployment rate and a 10 per cent wage gap. Women at the bottom of the labour market were afraid to claim discrimination because they were afraid of losing their jobs.
Ms. SAIGA, expert from Japan, also wanted information on parental leave, including the length of parental leave for both the mother and father.
Ms. GABR, expert from Egypt, addressed the problem of rural women. Women constituted 52 per cent of the population. According to the report, agricultural activity was very important. In rural areas, agriculture was the main activity for about 60 per cent of working women. What then were rural women offered in terms of social services and how did those services compare with urban areas? She also asked what measures were being taken in terms of poverty in rural areas. How did elderly women obtain services in remote areas? With regard to tourism, what was the impact of tourism in rural areas? Was it helping large investment companies in detriment to smaller companies?
Ms. TSOUMANI emphasized that Greece attached great importance to strengthening women’s employment ability and elimination of discrimination in the labour field. The national plan contained quantitative and qualitative targets in that respect. There had been a continuous increase in women’s employment rates in recent years, and a recent employment law was very important in that respect.
Another member of the delegation said that, if there was discrimination, a woman, under the employment law, had recourse to mediation -- either individually, or through trade unions and non-governmental organizations. The Ombudsman was a competent body to mediate and register all violations. Two cases of sexual harassment had been brought forward, so far. The contents of the new law were widely discussed prior to its adoption. The Labour Ministry, together with the Secretary-General, would be launching a public information campaign to familiarize the population with the provisions of the law. An information manual would be distributed among vulnerable groups.
Regarding childcare, she said that the present structure covered about 50 per cent of the needs, but the country was on the right path. A new project should be completed by June 2007 to strengthen the framework, which would allow reconciliation of professional and home lives of both men and women. Parental leave was a complicated issue. The rights were given by national collective agreements, which were compulsory under the law. There were two types of parental leave, which involved either reduced hours, or taking time off. The terms of the leave differed in the public and private sector. Under the new law on sexual harassment, any type of infringement of the contract was declared null and void in cases of violations.
On rural women, a member of the delegation said that a very advanced training project had been initiated for the education of rural workers. In the 2005-2006 academic year, 250 specialized classes had been created within the framework of that project. Since 2004, a specialized programme had been in place to address the needs of female agricultural workers. The situation of women living on isolated islands and in mountainous areas was also being addressed. Many women were involved in small agricultural enterprises in tourist areas. The national health system took into account the needs of elderly rural women. Elderly people staying in rural areas were not abandoned.
Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, focused on the issues of religious law and the Muslim minority. Greece had ratified the Convention without any reservations, but it was not keeping its commitment to that instrument as far as equality within family life was concerned. A large number of Muslim women in Greece lived according to the sharia. Indeed, there was a choice of civil or religious law for the citizens of Greece, but saying that women chose to live according to religious law was not an acceptable excuse.
She said that the report before the Committee had no reference to family law. In the country’s response to the pre-session group’s questions there was a small explanation about the family law. She understood that polygamy, underage marriages and marriage by proxy were not permitted. According to the document, members of the Muslim community were free to refer to either the local Muftis or the civil courts for their family matters. In case they chose the former, sharia was implemented to the extent that its rules were not in conflict with the Greek constitutional order. Any ruling by the Mufti was subject to scrutiny by the court. According to other materials, however, only one of the thousands of cases decided by the Muftis had been overturned by a Greek secular court.
Sharia implemented by the Muslim minority in Greece was very restrictive, she continued. For instance, the right of divorce belonged only to the husband, and a woman must be listed as a certified virgin in marriage documents. She wanted to know what the Government was doing to safeguard the rights of Muslim women, as it was obliged to do as a State party to the Convention.
Her other questions related to the general civil law applicable in Greece in relation to distribution of property in cases of divorce and the rights of cohabitants who were not formally married.
Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked the State party to provide in its next report comprehensive information on article 16. The Government needed to take its responsibilities, as far as article 16 was concerned, very seriously. For the Government to decide that it was an area of minority rights would be to shirk its responsibilities.
Responding to the issue of family law, a member of the delegation agreed that respect for tradition could not justify restrictions or lowering of standards in the human rights field. The spiritual leaders also performed certain administrative functions in family matters, such as marriages, divorces and pensions. The choice whether to use sharia or civil code laws was made by the members of the Muslim minority community. They were free to address themselves to local Muftis. Greece did not have parallel or separate societies depending on religious affiliation. Women were included in gender equality policies. In case members of the Muslim minority chose recourse to Muftis, sharia was implemented to the extent that its rules were not in conflict with the Greek legal order. To reconcile Islamic law with Greek law, the law provided that the courts could not enforce decisions of the Muftis that were contrary to the Constitution. Concepts such as polygamy, underage marriage, and marriage by proxy were, therefore, not allowed or practiced. There was an ongoing discussion in academic circles on the legislative framework and practice. Such practices were not as prevalent as presented by alternative sources.
Also addressing family law, another speaker said the relationship between man and wife had been governed by what was considered innovative legislation, according to which the woman kept her family name after marriage. Before marriage, men and women could decide on the name of their future children, which could have the name of the man, woman or both. The marriage age was 18 years for both sexes. The law provided that couples choose a system of property ownership. The law also provided for the participation of each spouse in terms of property acquired during the marriage.
Yet another member of the delegation addressed the issue of education of the minority population. The State gave great priority to minority schools, providing large budgets for educational programmes. Education of Muslim adults was also very important. Centres to assist the Muslim populations offered special information and courses. Creative workshops were also held for young Muslims.
In a round of follow-up questions, an expert challenged how systematic the country’s monitoring system was and added that, if there were no initiatives to change the face of the Parliament, the Government should think about extending the quota system in that area. Another expert requested that the Government pay real attention to the issue of trade unions, so that women could participate equally. The issue of marital property rights under civil unions was also raised, as was the situation of some 200,000 children without birth certificates.
Responding, Ms. TSOUMANI said the issue of quotas in public bodies was a question of practice and reality. The Government reminded ministers of their obligations in that regard. As far as political parties were concerned, the two big parties had their own quota systems. Regarding trade unions, she said the Government had signed a protocol with employers to tackle such issues. Enterprises were obligated by the protocol to give women priority in positions of higher responsibilities. Financial initiatives were also given.
On civil marriage, another member of the delegation said partnership outside of marriage did not produce legal effects. The law did not recognize such unions except in cases of domestic violence.
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