WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE COMMENDS LITHUANIA’S GENDER EQUALITY LAWS, BUT QUESTIONS DRAFT BILL TO SEVERELY RESTRICT LEGAL ABORTION
WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE COMMENDS LITHUANIA’S GENDER EQUALITY LAWS, BUT QUESTIONS DRAFT BILL TO SEVERELY RESTRICT LEGAL ABORTION
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
834th & 835th Meetings (AM & PM)
WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE COMMENDS LITHUANIA’S GENDER EQUALITY
LAWS, BUT QUESTIONS DRAFT BILL TO SEVERELY RESTRICT LEGAL ABORTION
Delegation Says Lithuania’s Accession to European Union in 2004
Was Powerful Impetus; Now Gender Equality Principles Incorporated in Law
While commending Lithuania’s wide-ranging gender equality legislation and programmes, members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today questioned a draft law that would severely restrict legal abortion, and urged the Government to take steps to improve reproductive health services, promote women’s participation in decision-making, and eliminate sexual stereotypes.
Acting in their personal capacities, the Committee’s 23 experts monitor compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, often referred to as an “international bill of rights for women”. The Committee was considering Lithuania’s third and fourth periodic reports.
Members of the Committee expressed serious concern about a bill that would restrict legal abortion in Lithuania. Pointing out that such legislation would seriously affect women’s reproductive health, they recalled that the European Parliament had urged the Lithuanian Parliament to reject that measure. If the Government intended to press ahead and restrict abortion, the consequences would be disastrous for women, one expert warned.
Also addressed in the experts’ dialogue with Lithuania’s delegation was the fact that some 50 per cent of young women in the country did not use contraceptives. Concern was also expressed about a recent resolution on the national family policy, which failed to articulate the importance of comprehensive sexual education and limited the concept of family to heterosexual marriage, while emphasizing the role of women as childbearers.
Experts lauded the fact that, after the 2004 elections, the percentage of women in the country’s Parliament had doubled -- increasing to 22 per cent, from less than 11 per cent in 2000 -- but they expressed regret over the insufficient number of women in elected positions at the local level.
The lack of proportion between the number of women graduating from universities and in decision-making positions was surprising, one Committee member asserted. Another asked if there were any Government activities to encourage girls to choose non-traditional university fields of study. Although many women held doctoral degrees, they still faced difficulty in finding jobs in academia.
Supporting the position that women should take up non-traditional subjects, another expert noted that Lithuania had enshrined the principle of equal opportunity in education, and women were more educated than men. However, the educational system was still patriarchal in nature, and although women in Lithuania were well educated, they were still not well represented in decision-making positions. Under the current conditions, Lithuania ran “the risk of having an educated population in a country run by not very well-educated people”.
Much attention was also devoted today to the issue of violence against women, which the Government had identified among its long-term priorities. In 2006, Lithuania had adopted a national strategy for combating such violence. It envisioned, among other things, improved legislation, measures of protection and support for victims, prevention of domestic violence, and training for relevant professionals. The experts also discussed the passage last month of a Civil Code amendment, under which domestic violence offenders, and not the victims, must leave the home.
Presenting the country’s case to the Committee, Lithuania’s Undersecretary for Social Security and Labour, Violeta Murauskaite, outlined recent amendments to the country’s 1998 Law on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men and said that Lithuania had been implementing a comprehensive national equal opportunities programme since 2003.
Lithuania’s accession to the European Union in 2004 had provided a powerful impetus to further improve the legislation, she said. The principles of gender equality and non-discrimination on the grounds of sex had been incorporated into the country’s labour, civil, criminal and administrative codes. Requirements to secure gender equality had been integrated into the elections law, laws on higher education, employment support, health and other legislation. Seeking to improve opportunities for women and men, in order to reconcile work and family issues, the Government had followed a complex approach, covering flexible working arrangements, childcare facilities, development of maternity, paternity, childcare leave and gender equality training for social partners.
Other issues addressed today included equality in the workplace, the situation of minority and vulnerable women, women’s employment and family life.
The Committee will take up Nigeria’s reports at 10 a.m. Thursday, 3 July.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider Lithuania’s third and fourth periodic reports (documents CEDAW/C/LTU/3 and 4).
The delegation was headed by Violeta Murauskaite, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Social Security and Labour, and also included: Vanda Jurseniene, Head of the Gender Equality Division of the Ministry of Social Security and Labour; Ausrute Armonaviciene, Head of the Mother and Children’s Health Subdivision of the Ministry of Health; Sigute Litvinaviciene, Senior Expert of the Division of Demographic Statistics of the Statistics Department; and Audra Mikalauskaite, Deputy Director of the Department of Family, Children and Youth of the Ministry of Social Security and Labour.
Also: Vygante Milasiute, Head of the Division of International Agreements Law of the Ministry of Justice; Arunas Pliksnys, Director of the Department of General Education of the Ministry of Education and Science; Giedre Purvaneckiene, Adviser to the Prime Minister; Valda Rukstelyte, Attaché of the Division of Human Rights of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs; and Reda Sirgediene, Commissioner-Head of the Trafficking in Human Beings Investigation Unit of the Lithuanian Criminal Police Bureau.
Introduction of Reports
Presenting the reports, VIOLETA MURAUSKAITE, Under-Secretary of Social Security and Labour of Lithuania, said the country’s most important legal act in the field of gender equality was the 1998 Law on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men. Since Lithuania’s last presentation of its reports, that law had been amended and supplemented. In particular, amendments in 2002 had introduced the definition of indirect discrimination and specified obligations of State institutions to implement gender equality in all areas, including consumer protection.
In 2004, she said, the concept of the burden of proof had been introduced, which switched the burden of proof of discrimination from the potential victim to the person or institution against which the complaint was lodged. The victim of discrimination had obtained the right to claim financial compensation from the person or institution that had discriminated against her. New amendments in 2005, 2007 and 2008 had forbidden harassment on the grounds of sex; discrimination on the grounds of sex with regards of membership in trade unions and other organizations; and discrimination in occupational social security schemes. Additionally, non-governmental organizations had been granted the right to represent victims of discrimination.
She said that Lithuania’s accession to the European Union in 2004 had provided a powerful impetus to further improve the legislation, especially in gender equality matters. The principles of gender equality and non-discrimination on the grounds of sex had been incorporated into the country’s labour, civil, criminal and administrative codes. Requirements to secure gender equality were integrated into the elections law, laws on higher education, employment support, health and other legislation.
Lithuania had been implementing a comprehensive national equal opportunities programme since 2003, she continued. Measures under that programme were being implemented by all ministries, in cooperation with women’s non-governmental organizations, gender studies centres, and labour market institutions. The programme was fully financed from the State budget and additionally supported by European Union structural funds. The Commission on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men coordinated the implementation of the programme and annually submitted implementation reports to the Government. Since 2000, persons responsible for gender issues had been appointed in every ministry. In 2001, the Minister of Social Security and Labour had been entrusted with coordinating implementation of gender equality measures, and to act as a gender equality minister. In 2007, a separate Gender Equality Division had been established in the Ministry of Social Security and Labour. In addition, there were more than 130 women’s non-governmental organizations in Lithuania.
With the country’s rapid economic growth, there had been positive changes in Lithuania’s employment market, she said. Women’s unemployment rate stood at 5.1 per cent this year, compared to 4.6 per cent for men. Women’s employment rate had reached 61.2 per cent this year, exceeding the target for European Union member States for 2010. Notwithstanding considerable progress, the Government continued to address the issue of equal opportunities in the labour market, promoting women’s entrepreneurship by increasing opportunities for women to start their own businesses, and encouraging women’s economic activity overall, especially in rural areas. The Government was also encouraging employers to ensure equal pay for equal work and work of the same value. According to a 2007 World Economic Forum report on the global gender gap index, Lithuania was among the countries that had made the most significant progress, assuming the fourteenth place out of 128 countries.
Seeking to improve opportunities for women and men to reconcile work and family issues, the Government followed a complex approach, covering flexible working arrangements, childcare facilities, development of maternity, paternity, childcare leave and gender equality training for social partners, she noted. In employment among women raising children under 12, Lithuania took the second place in the European Union. The country’s Labour Code provided flexible opportunities for childcare leave. Recently, a one-month fully-paid paternity leave had been introduced. The Government had also elaborated a model of family-friendly enterprises, which encouraged employers and trade unions to establish family‑friendly workplaces.
Turning to violence against women, she said that it was a long-term priority for Lithuania. In 2006, the Government had adopted a National Strategy for Combating Violence against Women, which foresaw improvement of appropriate legislation, measures of protection and support for victims, prevention of domestic violence and work with perpetrators. The strategy also defined training for relevant professionals, awareness-raising and systematic monitoring of the situation. Lithuania was implementing a strategic goal of establishing a certain number of places in women’s crisis centres at the municipal level for women victims of violence. Most of those centres were run by non-governmental organizations, but their projects were financed from the State budget and European Union structural funds. In 2001, the first men’s crisis centre had been established, and this year, the Government was supporting six such projects.
On 3 June, the Parliament had approved new amendments to the Civil Code, enforcing provisions relating to domestic violence, she added. The Code now ensured a legal obligation for the offender, but not the victim, to leave his or her home and family. Lithuania had also been the first country in the region to have adopted a specialized programme on human trafficking and prostitution, in 2002. At the regional level, the country was taking part in the Nordic-Baltic awareness-raising campaign against trafficking in women.
On women’s participation in decision-making, she said that women’s engagement in the country’s political life had been increasing, slowly but steadily. After the 2004 elections, the percentage of women in the Parliament had doubled, compared to 2000, increasing from 10.6 per cent to 22 per cent. In the civil service, women comprised 28 per cent of the highest-level decision-makers, including Ministers, Vice-Ministers and State Secretaries. Women comprised 40 per cent of all managers in the country.
She said that the level of women’s education remained higher than that of men’s. Women comprised more than 60 per cent of all students in all types of educational institutions. Women prevailed in most higher education sectors, except in technical, agricultural and military spheres. Nevertheless, in 2004, the first group of women had graduated from the Military Academy.
Combating gender stereotypes was one of the Government’s tasks, she said. The most successful projects in that regard were coordinated by the Gender Studies Centre of Vilnius University and the Kaunas Women’s Employment Information Centre. The Ministry of Culture supported projects aimed at non-stereotypical images of women and men in the media. Discriminatory advertising was forbidden and advertising contents were carefully monitored by the Ombudsmen on Equal Opportunities. Nevertheless, the Government recognized that combating gender stereotypes required long-term efforts.
She said her country had ratified the Women’s Convention’s Optional Protocol and the amendment to article 20, without reservations. In the framework of the Nordic-Baltic Gender Equality Programme, several initiatives had been put forward in the region. Vilnius had hosted one of the conferences on women and democracy, with the participation of countries from the Baltic Sea area.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
As the Committee began its detailed examination of Lithuania’s implementation of the Convention, experts commended the country for having ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention.
PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked for data on complaints received by the Ombudsman’s office from elderly and disabled women, and urban versus rural women. The country report did not answer the Committee’s questions on landmark court cases in which the Convention might have been invoked. To what extent was it used in domestic courts? To what extent did the Government intend to focus its training of the judiciary on the Convention?
HANNA BEATE SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said the information on gender in the country report was not specific to women. She wondered whether Lithuanian officials had fully grasped the meaning of the Convention and encouraged greater training for country officials to write the reports. Many programmes seemed to rely heavily on European Union funding. Were there plans to integrate financing for women’s programmes into national budgets and to adopt gender budgeting? Within the financing framework, were non-governmental organizations’ salaries and costs funded? Could the delegation identify the provisions in the Lithuanian Constitution that deemed the application of temporary special measures to be unconstitutional? If that was the case, were there plans to amend the Constitution? In what area did Lithuania plan to apply temporary special measures?
YOKO HAYASHI, expert from Japan, said the country report gave a general scenario of the situation of Roma women and girls. How did the Government recognize them, and what specific measures were in place to integrate them? What targets existed for Roma women and girls? How was the Government encouraging Roma women to preserve the national identity, and did conflict exist between the Roma and non-Roma population?
MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, asked what positive obligations the Government had placed on the private sector to reduce vertical and horizontal job segregation and the gender pay gap. Who did that sector report to on the success of its plans? How would that be monitored?
In response, a delegate said that, since 2005, the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman had dealt with issues of gender discrimination and discrimination against women on the grounds of race, age, sexual orientation and religious beliefs. The Ombudsman had a broad range of decisions to make in regard to the complaints. The strongest penalty was to impose administrative sanctions. Article 24 of the Law on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men gave the Ombudsman the right to refer cases to investigative bodies and to dismiss complaints. It could end an investigation if the complainant withdrew the complaint or if a peaceful settlement was reached. In terms of warnings, the Ombudsman was involved in awareness-raising and it offered free and objective consultations. She would provide information in writing, or later in the day, on the number of complaints received by disabled, elderly and rural women.
Another delegate, turning to temporary special measures, said the Constitution had a provision that provided for equality and also prohibited discrimination that offered privileges. If a temporary special measure was treated as a privilege, it could be perceived as unconstitutional. However, there were no plans to amend the Constitution, as there seemed to be no need to do so. Substantive equality was recognized as a concept covered by the Constitution. The Law on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men had a provision on temporary special measures, which was an indication that such measures were in line with the Constitution.
Ms. MURAUSKAITE said that sometimes temporary special measures were applied, specifically to promote women’s businesses and women in politics. However, women’s promotion in those areas did not always require such measures.
Another delegate said that European Union funding supplemented the State budget’s funding for gender-related projects. European Union funds supplied up to half of such projects. Funding for non-governmental organizations’ projects covered salaries, administrative expenses and office operations. Gender budgeting was one part of the ministry’s budget for national equal opportunity programmes, used mainly for local pilot projects. The results of an impact assessment of European structural funds on women and men, funded by the State and the European Union, would be finalized by year’s end.
Another delegate added that European Union structural funds comprised part of the State budget, which was consolidated and strategically planned. Funds did not dry up after a project was completed. Non-governmental organizations lacked institutional funding. A Government commission for non-governmental organizations, comprised of representatives of those groups, including women’s organizations, and State officials, two weeks ago had prepared a development strategy for such groups, which was under review. It would include institutional funding.
On the application of the Convention in Lithuania’s courts, another member of the delegation said that the judges primarily tended to apply domestic laws, and only in exceptional cases did they refer to international law. It was difficult to cite the number of cases where the Convention had been directly invoked. She hoped that the application of recently-introduced indicators would allow such cases to be clearly identified. As for training on the Convention, the Ministry of Justice had a training centre for the judiciary, and anti-discrimination issues were included in the curriculum. The treaty was also included in the legal curricula of the country’s universities.
The Equal Opportunities Law applied, not only to the public sector, but to the private sector, as well, a member of the delegation said. However, a gender pay gap had led to economic segregation in some cases, and the Government was seeking to redress that situation. She also listed awareness-raising measures, promotion of flexible working arrangements and establishment of family-friendly enterprises, among the Government’s other efforts.
She added that complaints to the Equal Opportunity Ombudsman’s office were received by all means possible, including oral complaints, by phone and by e-mail. Rural women had access to the office and were not limited in opportunity.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
As the Committee proceeded to a new round of questions, while congratulating the Government for its efforts to promote gender equality, several experts asked for details on the functioning of the national machinery for the advancement of women, gender funding and the situation of ethnic minorities.
VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, wondered if the persons responsible for gender issues in each ministry were vested exclusively with gender work, or if those responsibilities represented an additional task. What progress had been achieved in appointing gender staff at the municipal level? Concerned about possible overlapping of mandates among various gender equality bodies, she asked who was responsible for implementing the national equal opportunities strategy and programme and sought elaboration on women’s complaints to the Ombudsman’s office that were related to access and supply of goods and services.
Noting that Lithuania had a mixed population, MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked about the situation of non-Lithuanian women, including Russians and Poles. Little information had been provided in the reports regarding their specific difficulties. She also asked about the situation of Roma women. Noting that some gender issues were being addressed within the framework of European Union-funded programmes, she asked whether there would be efforts to ensure sustainability of those projects once their funds were exhausted.
In the same vein, SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, posed several questions about the European Union structural funds, wondering, in particular, if the State provided matching funds for gender equality actions. What was the percentage of European Union structural funds in the country’s overall expenditure? She also asked about the staffing and system of monitoring of the Gender Equality Division at the Ministry of Social Security and Labour.
Ms. JURSENIENE, Head of the Gender Equality Division of the Ministry of Social Security and Labour, confirmed that, since 2001, one or two persons responsible for gender equality issues had been appointed in every Ministry, and they carried out their responsibilities for gender equality, in addition to their general functions. At the municipal level, just 3 or 4 per cent of municipalities had such focal points.
In addition to its own functions, the Division of Gender Equality Served as the secretariat for the Commission of Equal Opportunities and implemented the decisions of the Commission. While it might seem that just four staff in the Division were not enough, with clear separation of functions, they were trying to make the work as effective as possible.
Regarding the national machinery, she said that, as it was very important to get all actors together, the Commission invited all stakeholders in the gender equality field to participate in its activities. The Ombudsman was always invited to meetings of the Commission, with observer status. She was able to comment on any issues.
On the establishment the European Institute for Gender Equality in Vilnius, she said that, at the beginning of the year, the post of Director had been advertised, and she hoped that, following the completion of the selection process, the Institute would start functioning and elaborate its programme of work by the end of 2009.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
As the Committee turned to prejudices and negative sexual stereotypes, MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, said that Lithuania’s reports listed a wide series of measures to do away with stereotypes, discrimination in the workplace and in advertising, but there were some factors missing, and the efficiency of the measures was not assessed. She wanted to know what was being done to eliminate stereotypes. She also asked about the country’s programme for family and sex education, wondering if the Ministry of Education was the right entity to determine its contents. What role had the Ministry for Social Security and Labour and its Gender Division played in assessing the content? She also wanted to know if the draft on the conceptual framework for family education had been adopted.
FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, asked about the status of the law to eliminate violence against women and its impact on reducing domestic violence. Also, had strategies to end domestic violence been extended to rural areas? Did Roma and other minority women have access to the more than 20 crisis centres for women? Were there shelters for victims of trafficking?
HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, congratulated the delegation on Lithuania’s efforts to end domestic violence and its passage of the civil court amendment, which had introduced a new provision whereby domestic violence offenders, and not victims, must leave the home. The Criminal Code stated that domestic violence was criminally liable only when victims filed complaints. Was domestic violence, therefore, considered a social crime, or was it more of a private matter? Why was it considered on par with a minor health impairment?
She asserted that the name of men’s crisis centres should be changed. Men needed correction, treatment, rehabilitation or imprisonment. What programmes did the centres provide, or did they just serve as shelters? She advised the delegation to study the Secretary-General’s 2006 report on ending all forms of violence against women, which included good examples on the issue.
Ms. CHUTIKUL asked about improvements to protecting victims of domestic violence. Were any of the victims children? Had Lithuania used the 2002 guidelines of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on protection of children? Concerning the new law on forced labour, how were men being trafficked, and what were they forced to do? In table 3 of the fourth report, what was meant by “offenders known to law enforcement” and “victims known to law enforcement”? If they were known, what was being done about them?
DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, Committee Chairperson and expert from Croatia, asked how protection orders, provided for under the new Civil Code amendment, were issued and the time frame for that. She requested more information about the available number of shelters and phone lines for victims of violence, and whether the State fully funded them. The Secretary-General and the European Union had launched campaigns to end violence against women. Had Lithuania conducted similar campaigns? If so, what had been the main results? How many women had been murdered by their husbands, ex-husbands and intimate partners? Was there a task force analysing such data to see what prevention measures were necessary?
Regarding the burden of proof in domestic violence cases, a delegate said that had been introduced into the equal opportunities law. The law did not regulate private or family matters. The national strategy for eliminating violence comprised three-year consecutive plans to be implemented through 2015. Since 2006, 1.5 million Lithuanian litai were budgeted annually for the strategy. The draft law to end violence was still being considered and it required a definition of domestic violence before it could be adopted by Parliament. A definition had been prepared by a parliamentary working group comprising 11 experts and it was now under the Parliament’s consideration. The draft law would arise from that definition once it was adopted.
Continuing, she said the country’s 20 crisis centres to assist victims of violence were fully funded by the State and they provided comprehensive support for victims. In addition, 15 women’s non-governmental organizations supported activities to prevent violence, including awareness-raising and consultations. A women’s non-governmental organization project supported victims of trafficking. The strategy to prevent and control trafficking was State-funded. She thanked Ms. Shin for her suggestion to rename the men’s crisis centres to more accurately reflect their role and activities. The centres gave alternative penalties to offenders, as well as therapy and information on where men could get help to end their violent behaviour. There was one crisis information centre and six other initiatives; however, that was not enough. Since 2007, the adoption of the strategy to eliminate violence against women had provided for creation of a toll-free, 24-hour, 7-days-a-week phone line. One telephone line covered the country and was run by a psychological centre, in cooperation with some women’s organizations.
Lithuania had joined and participated in the Council of Europe’s campaign against violence, which had ended in June. Lithuania had adopted a national strategy to eliminate violence, and its national awareness-raising campaign would continue until 2009. The draft law on domestic violence would be enacted, following the adoption of a definition on protecting women against violence.
Regarding Roma women, another delegate said that a social survey had been conducted on their status, prior to the adoption in March of the 2008-2010 Roma integration programme. That programme had a set budget and specific targets, particularly concerning education for Roma women. With support from non-governmental organizations, the programme would work to help Roma women understand their educational rights and available programmes, as well as how to enter the labour market. The 2008 budget for the programme was more than 1 million litai.
On domestic violence, she said the majority of issues were covered by the 2006 National Strategy on the Elimination of Violence against Women. The programme’s budget was very high, amounting to 1.5 million litai this year. The Government had not only analysed the situation in Lithuania, but had also sought to emulate good practices from other countries, and the programme covered all the issues mentioned by the experts.
Continuing, she explained that in rural areas, police officers were tasked with preventive measures and monitoring the situation in small communities. A special working group consisting of law enforcement personnel and representatives of non-governmental organizations had elaborated recommendations and a guidebook on how to manage family conflicts. Those recommendations not only provided the procedure to follow, but also elaborated where women should apply to receive help.
She also confirmed that a new amendment had provided for an obligation to separate the perpetrator from the victim, and the Criminal Code had been reviewed accordingly. At the same time, it was important to ensure women’s right to decide if they wanted to proceed with the case. Many wanted to continue living with the offender, but wanted the violence to stop. It would be a violation of a woman’s rights for the lawyers to determine that the case must proceed, without paying attention to the wishes of the woman.
According to official statistics, some 33,000 calls regarding household conflicts had been reported by the police in 2007. Only 14,466 victims had agreed to issue a report that she or he had been violated. Little more than half the reports had come from women. In only 110 cases had the authorities proceeded with an investigation. In some cases, however, when the seriousness of the case indicated that it was not just a private interest that was involved, the prosecutor was obliged to get involved.
Ms. MURAUSKAITE said that the complaints received by the office of the Ombudsman were systematized according to grounds of discrimination. Most complaints regarding goods and services related to discriminatory advertising.
Regarding European Union and State budget funding, she said that the State budget for the implementation of the National Programme amounted to some 1,434,000 litai. To receive additional European Union funding for gender equality, the Government needed to have strategic programmes in place. A country could attract additional funding only if it made gender equality a strong priority and had State budget funding, as confirmed by the Government in strategic documents.
On trafficking in women, she described a governmental programme for 2005 to 2008, the second such programme in place. All the measures were financed 100 per cent from the State budget. About 600,000 litai were provided to non-governmental organizations in support of trafficking victims. Among the programme’s main achievements had been improvements in collecting information regarding victims. Such information was collected both by law enforcement entities and non-governmental organizations, and the statistics were almost the same. The law enforcement authorities had introduced a new system to collect data systematically and electronically from all regions of the country. The programme also provided for special protection, including for child victims. Among other important measures was Internet surveillance to prevent child recruitment and trafficking. Regarding prostitution, not only were women selling sexual services punishable by law, but also the people buying their services. First-time offenders could be fined 300 to 500 litai.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said that considerable progress had been made in Lithuania in terms of a greater proportion of women being elected to the Parliament, but it was regrettable that in local elections, there were still an insufficient proportion of women. While there had been some progress as far as women’s diplomatic representation was concerned, more remained to be done. No numbers had been provided on the number of female judges.
Echoing those concerns, FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, said the disproportionate number of women graduating from universities and in decision-making positions was surprising. Few city governments had women dealing specifically with gender equality issues. Had the Government circulated the charter adopted by communities and regions of Europe with respect to gender representation in local government? The State needed to ensure that local communities took that aspect into account.
Ms. NEUBAUER asked about the provisions of the electoral law in respect of women’s elections. While women’s representation reached 40 per cent in some municipalities, in others, it was very low. She asked about the impact of women’s increased participation on the Parliament and what was being done to encourage the participation of women from specific population groups, including Roma and rural women. She regretted that the country responses had not answered all the questions of the pre-session working group.
Another delegate said that measures had been taken since 2005 by the Ministry of Social Security and Labour that were supported by both State funds and European Union structural funds. Local networks of women politicians had been set up; however, much more must be done to encourage women’s participation in political life. Research in 2004 had led to several proposals on how to increase women’s involvement in political life, and that had been incorporated into the national programme on equal opportunities. However, progress was still slow in getting more women university graduates into decision-making posts. The Equal Opportunities Ombudsman had carried out two gender-mainstreaming projects in local municipalities.
Turning to the prevalence of women in the field of law, Ms. MURAUSKAITE said women accounted for 54.8 per cent of the country’s judges, 44.5 per cent of its prosecutors, 34.6 per cent of its attorneys and 52.9 per cent of its bailiffs.
Another delegate said 7 or 8 of the country’s 50 embassies worldwide were headed by women ambassadors. As of June, 315 of the country’s 598 diplomats were women.
As to whether the Parliament was sensitive to women’s and family issues, another delegate acknowledged that awareness of women’s issues was lacking in some municipalities. Some female candidates were not assertive enough in their campaigns and often lost elections to male counterparts. The equal opportunities programme had launched awareness-raising and training programmes for women leaders, in a bid to change that.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
Ms. GASPARD noted the inequalities in sports between girls and boys in Lithuania. Drawing attention to a proposal to make badminton and aerobics attractive for girls, she asked why sports like soccer and boxing were not part of that proposal. What was being done at the State level to develop gender surveys? Stressing the importance of having gender specialists at the national and local levels at Vilnius University, she asked what was being done to promote gender studies and programmes at the country’s universities.
ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, asked why more than 90 per cent of female students aspired to be teachers, and more than 90 per cent of their male counterparts aspired to be engineers. Were there any Government activities to encourage girls to choose non-traditional university majors? Although many women held doctoral degrees, they still faced difficulty in finding jobs in academia. Why did women only hold 12 per cent of the country’s professor jobs, and were there any policies to encourage women to seek academic posts? How did the 2003-2012 education strategy apply to rural areas, and how many men and women benefited from it? She asked the delegation to elaborate on the benefits and recipients of the European Union-supported project to help school dropouts. She also noted that there was not enough gender-disaggregated data on those issues.
GLENDA P. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, thanked the country for its detailed report and said that, according to that document, Lithuania had enshrined the principle of equal opportunity in education, and women were more educated than men. However, as far as education was concerned, it was important to go beyond percentages, because the system of education had been designed by the patriarchy and remained patriarchal in nature. As pointed out by other experts, women in Lithuania were well educated, yet they were still not well represented in decision-making positions. A small percentage of men in every country ran the world. Under the current conditions, “you run the risk of having an educated population in a country run by not very well-educated people”, she warned.
Also according to the report, girls in Lithuania were still avoiding such fields as information technology, engineering, agriculture, forestry and fishery and environmental protection, she continued. But with the issue of food security high on the world agenda, girls must enter the field of agriculture. Unless educated in the environmental protection, women could not be part of decisions about the environment. It was important to look more deeply into the matter of education. It was also important to make sure that, through sex education, a woman was empowered to take decisions about her own body.
Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING asked if the country had gone through a thorough review of all textbooks at all levels. Was sexual education included as a mandatory subject in school curricula?
A delegate said that physical education was compulsory and that new programmes in that regard were approved in 2003. Each school must develop its own programme. Informal education comprised after-school activities and separate sports schools. About 40,000 students attended sports schools. There were also informal education programmes for art and music. A 2006-2012 strategy had been launched in municipalities for physical education.
Another delegate said that the Government was addressing vertical and horizontal gender segregation in universities. Vilnius and Kaunas Universities had gender studies institutes, which conducted research and offered optional courses. A master’s programme in gender budgeting would soon be launched at Kaunas University. A new strategy was under way to have 20 per cent of top administrative posts in science and research filled by women. Women were increasingly filling associate professor posts, and they comprised 60 per cent of doctoral students. Research conducted on women in the sciences revealed that the main reason why women took breaks in their careers was to care for their children.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
Ms. PATTEN lauded the great drop in women’s unemployment in Lithuania. However, the country report did not provide data on the number of women working part-time. Had the figures provided in the morning included that? She also asked for data on the age group of unemployed women. What concrete steps were being taken to eliminate the country’s strong occupational segregation? What were the Ministry’s plans to promote equal participation of women in highly skilled jobs, and what mechanisms dealt with wage discrimination?
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA said that gender stereotypes were still strong in Lithuania in the workplace. Women were still seen as responsible for childcare and were asked on job interviews about their plans for having children. What was the Government doing to erase such stereotypes and improve women’s rights in the labour market?
A delegate said that occupational segregation, unfortunately, was still prevalent in Lithuania in all walks of life. Since 2005, the national programme for equal opportunity had involved training of specialists, as well as programmes for employers aimed at eliminating gender stereotypes and encouraging women to enter non-traditional fields. Occupational segregation negatively influenced the gender pay gap. Through dialogue with employers and trade unions, the Government sought to persuade employers to apply recommended measures to eliminate pay gaps. The Equal Opportunities Ombudsman monitored complaints about equal pay, but it had received very few complaints thus far. Prospective employers were not allowed to ask women during interviews whether they had children or about their plans for having children. Parental leave was available for both mothers and fathers.
Another delegate said that the national strategy for equal rights for men and women had created indicators to monitor its implementation. Long-time strategies for rural areas were financed by the State budget. Training programmes for teachers in rural areas were under way. More than 1,000 textbooks had recently been eliminated, owing to the presence of gender stereotypes. Gender experts had worked to ensure that gender issues were balanced in textbooks.
Another delegate noted that the law on social services addressed the concerns of disabled and elderly women, as well as severely disabled children. Since January 2007, the Government had issued targeted grants for municipalities to fund such things as day-care centres for disabled children and programmes for severely disabled elderly women. Social service programmes had expanded significantly since 2003. There were currently 75,000 recipients in day-care institutions, a threefold increase from five years ago.
Another member of the delegation said that the lowest earnings were received by women in the restaurant business, education and agriculture. The highest earnings could be found in the areas of public administration and finance.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
As the Committee proceeded to the next round of questions, several experts expressed serious concern regarding reproductive rights and sex education in Lithuania, questioning a draft law that would strictly restrict legal abortion.
Ms. AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, said that the country’s report did not provide enough information on the access and quality of family planning services, as well as on the use of contraceptives. More updated information should be provided. With some 50 per cent of young women not using contraceptives, she wondered about the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases among women, especially HIV/AIDS. She also asked about the status of a measure pending in Parliament that would restrict the use of abortion, pointing out that the European Parliament opposed a ban on abortions.
Ms. HAYASHI said that, in the list of issues, the Committee had expressed concern that about the fact that half of the women in Lithuania did not use contraceptives. The report also referred to awareness-raising campaigns, but it was not clear what kind of awareness the Government was trying to raise. Did women have access to affordable contraceptives, including emergency contraceptives?
She noted that, according to a shadow report of a non-governmental organization, a political concept rule in defence of life was being considered in Lithuania, which would strictly restrict legal abortion. More than 110 members of the European Parliament had signed a letter urging the Lithuanian Parliament to reject that measure, because it would seriously affect women’s reproductive health. What was the Government’s position on that draft? If the Government intended to restrict abortion, the consequences would be disastrous for women.
SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, said that sexual and reproductive health services were essential for protecting women from unsafe abortions. The bill being considered covered only three situations where abortion would be allowed: risk of life or health of pregnant women; and pregnancy as a consequence of a criminal act. She asked the Government to explain why foetal impairment was not considered. She was also concerned about a recently-approved resolution on national family policy, which limited the concept of family to heterosexual marriage and emphasized the role of women as childbearers. The resolution also failed to articulate the importance of comprehensive sexual education. The experts were very concerned with the bill and would appreciate the country’s replies.
Ms. DAIRIAM asked about the provision of adolescent health services, especially as far as reproductive health was concerned. How did the Government intend to address the issue of unwanted teenage pregnancies? She also asked about the balance between preventive and curative health services in the country. She sought clarification regarding the Government’s plans to ensure that the occupational discrimination was addressed by the private sector, as well as on the number of rural women who had made complaints to the office of the Ombudsman via e-mail and telephone.
A member of the delegation said that the Ombudsman’s office had statistics about complaints from women, but it did not have specific statistics on communications from rural areas. As for occupational segregation, the law on equal opportunities ensured obligations for all employers. Gender equality planning provisions for the private sector had been introduced in a draft law that would come up for adoption in 2009.
Another member of the delegation acknowledged that the draft law on life protection in the prenatal phase was very controversial. It had been submitted to the Parliament, and discussions on it continued at all levels. The Ministry of Health -- the main body that had to present conclusions on the draft -- did not support the bill. Of course, the Church had significant influence, so it was difficult to predict the outcome of the deliberations on the draft law.
According to statistical data, the number of abortions was constantly decreasing, she said, adding that reproductive health services were provided through primary health-care institutions. Family doctors, midwives and obstetricians provided information on family planning, regardless of the age of the patients. All persons had access to primary health care, both in cities and rural areas. The country had a wide network of primary health-care institutions.
On the use of contraceptives, she said that it was, indeed, a problem, because the attitude towards contraceptives was very controversial. Some women used contraceptives, but others chose natural methods of contraception or no contraception at all. All contraceptives, including emergency ones, were available by prescription only.
A country representative said that awareness-raising on reproductive health and contraception was among the measures envisioned by the programme on equal opportunities. Among other things, those measures related to the dissemination of information on the prevention of cervical cancer.
A member of the delegation said that the new family health programme envisioned measures on youth-friendly services, including adolescent counselling on reproductive health. The country had low figures on HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, with incidence among women three times lower than that of men, despite the low use of contraceptives.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, asked about the impact of the Ministry of Agriculture’s recent intensive activities on the living standards of and business opportunities for rural women. Had the Ministry of Agriculture used the findings of seminars to plan and implement programmes of action? If so, how many women in rural areas had started businesses? What funding and technical assistance was provided to them? Were there any success stories that the delegation could share? What contingency plans existed to fund programmes after European Union funds dried up? The Ministry of Economy offered consultations to 1,500 businesswomen interested in starting their own small businesses, but how many older women had benefited from that and other initiatives?
Ms. ARA BEGUM asked what initiatives had been undertaken to improve water services in rural areas. Had an impact analysis been conducted on the benefits for rural people of the first two phases of the national equal opportunities programme? What per cent of women were employed in local government posts in rural areas, and what per cent were elected to rural decision-making posts? Had unemployment among rural women decreased? What financial packages existed to help women-owned and women-run micro-businesses in rural areas? Did they receive tax breaks? Were there any interest-free credit facilities? Were health services accessible or affordable for girls in rural areas?
Ms. MURAUSKAITE replied that programmes and initiative for rural women were part of the national programme on equal opportunities. A quota had been established to ensure women’s participation in the fisheries industry. That was one example of a success story. The agency for small and medium-sized businesses had several measures to promote women’s entrepreneurship, in both traditional and non-traditional areas, such as shipbuilding. Those measures were detailed in the reports before the Committee. In 2006, research had been conducted on small and medium-sized businesses by the Statistics Department and the Ministry of Economy.
Another delegate said that, in 2007, women accounted for 31 per cent of all entrepreneurs, up from 28 per cent in 2006. The age range of female entrepreneurs was from 30 to 50 years old, while male entrepreneurs tended to be slightly younger.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, asked about alternative dispute resolution. Was mediation used in Lithuania and was it encouraged? Were there safety measures to protect weak parties in divorce and other mediation, and were measures in place specifically to protect women? Was mediation discouraged in cases of domestic violence? With data indicating that 30 per cent of children in Lithuania were born out of wedlock, she wanted to know how women’s property rights were protected in cases when they were not married to their co-habitating partners or the fathers of their children. Was there data on single mothers and their economic situation? Did Lithuania have a no-fault divorce regime? Was an extramarital relationship grounds for divorce? Did a woman who had an extramarital relationship lose her right to alimony?
DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked the delegation to explain under what circumstances a court would reduce the consent age for marriage.
Ms. TAN asked if a specialized court handled family situations. What was the divorce rate in the country, and did it vary from urban to rural areas? Was free legal aid provided for women who sought divorce, and was data available on the number of divorce cases? What sanctions were meted out to deadbeat fathers, and did the Government provide support for single mothers or fathers?
A delegate said that in terms of family law, neither voluntary nor mandatory mediation existed. Some private initiatives existed to help a spouse appeal a case in court concerning alimony and other questions. No special regulations existed concerning joint custody of children of unmarried, co-habitating couples. However, all children were equally protected under the law, regardless of their parents’ marital status.
There were no family courts, but some judges dealt specifically with family matters. This year, an alimony fund for children was set up to provide State assistance for children up to age 18 whose fathers refused to or lacked the money to pay alimony. Free legal aid was provided for women seeking divorce. A special provision in the Ministry of Justice allowed for free legal support for low-income people. The divorce rate had remained stable since 2000. In 2006, it was 3.3 per cent. The per cent of children born out of wedlock had grown from 7 per cent in 2000 to 30 per cent in 2008.
Follow-Up Questions and Answers
Ms. NEUBAUER asked under what circumstance the consent of marriage age was lowered.
In response, a delegate said that the age of consent could be lowered from 18 to 16 for pregnant girls.
Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING asked if family and sex education was compulsory.
In response, a delegate said that sex education was not compulsory. It was taught as an elective.
Another delegate said that many Lithuanian women still wanted to live with men who committed domestic violence. To prevent further violence, there were six projects for offenders and a crisis agency for men. The police arriving at a place of incident informed a specialized non-governmental organization, which provided support for women.
Under Lithuanian law, domestic violence was treated just like any other kind of violence, another member of the delegation said. When domestic violence resulted in minor health impairment, the victim could decide if she wanted to pursue criminal proceedings. Serious injuries came under different articles of the Criminal Code. Depending on the context of the case, an order for separation of the perpetrator was issued, either by a civil court, or the prosecutor’s office.
Education and training on gender violence was provided to the police and professionals involved in dealing with such matters, a country representative said.
In conclusion, Ms. MURAUSKAITE said that the delegation had appreciated the experts’ constructive remarks. Lithuania was committed to improving the status of women in the country and had made significant progress in that regard. However, the Government would seriously take into consideration the Committee’s recommendations and take measures to promote the equality of women and men in all spheres of social life.
The Committee’s Chair, Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, said that the Committee had seen progress in the implementation of the Convention, but also some problematic areas. Following the end of the session, the Government would be provided with the Committee’s concluding remarks. She also congratulated the country for having ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention.
She added that, in order to implement the Convention, it was important to use the instrument as part of national legislation. It should be more visible and “rediscovered”. Sometimes, the Convention was challenged by such measures as the abortion bill being considered by the Parliament. She hoped the Government would use the Committee’s relevant recommendations.
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