REPORTING TO WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE, SLOVAKIA’S GOVERNMENT STRONGLY DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN ALLEGED STERILIZATION OF ROMA WOMEN

14 July 2008
WOM/1696

REPORTING TO WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE, SLOVAKIA’S GOVERNMENT STRONGLY DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN ALLEGED STERILIZATION OF ROMA WOMEN

14 July 2008
General Assembly
WOM/1696
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

847th & 848th Meetings (AM & PM)

REPORTING TO WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE, SLOVAKIA’S GOVERNMENT

STRONGLY DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN ALLEGED STERILIZATION OF ROMA WOMEN

Slovakia Boasts Gains on Global Human Rights Scene; Seeks to Reverse National

Underperformance in Advancing Women’s Status, through New Gender Equality Council

Calling the practice “illegal”, Diana Štrofová, State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia, today strongly denied her Government had ever officially sanctioned or approved the alleged sterilization of Roma women in the eastern part of her country.

Presenting Slovakia’s second, third and fourth periodic combined report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Ms. Štrofová, who headed the 11-member Slovak delegation, said her Government had immediately launched a criminal prosecution under the auspices of the Prosecutor’s General Office and the Parliamentary Committee for Human Rights into accusations of forced sterilizations of Roma women from 1999 to 2003 in gynaecological and obstetrics departments.  The Ministry of Health had also formed a team of gynaecology and obstetrics experts to look into the charges.

While the criminal prosecution found no evidence of genocide, discrimination or segregation of Roma women by health-care personnel to support the allegations, the Government had decided to adopt preventive and protective measures, such as requiring a patient’s informed written consent for carrying out of sterilizations and access for her to her medical records.  Moreover, Slovakia’s Penal Code now recognized the criminal act of “illegal sterilization” and mandated a 30-day waiting period for sterilization from the time the patient gave written consent.

Still, the alleged sterilization of Roma women aroused intense interest among the Committee’s experts today, many of whom had repeatedly asked for more information from the delegation to clarify the Government’s position, intention and actions on the matter.  While they had commended Slovakia’s early ratification of the Optional Protocol, by which individuals could bring complaints to the Women’s Committee after exhausting all other remedies, they had also expressed their concern in several other areas.  They stressed, for instance, that more should be done to widely publicize the Optional Protocol and the Convention, and asked what the Government was planning to do in that regard.  They wondered if the judiciary and law students were schooled on the subject.

Some experts expressed concern over women’s limited access to the court system and barriers they faced when bringing cases before the courts.  They were unclear about the role and powers of the National Centre for Human Rights.  One expert also took issue with the prevalence of trafficking in women, while another decried the statistically high prevalence of domestic violence.  At least two experts complained that there were very few women in Parliament and said the country reports lacked sufficient data on that.  Experts urged the Government to persevere in putting more women in legislative and other political decision-making seats.  Another worried about gender stereotyping and the tendency to push young girls into specific areas of education.

Acknowledging that her country had not achieved the kind of success it desired at the national level to protect women’s rights, the State Secretary told Committee members that significant progress had been made in terms of legislation to protect victims of violence, during the period covered by the report.  For example, Slovakia had ratified all core human rights conventions and its legislation complied with the highest internationally-recognized standards.  This year, the Government had adopted its National Programme for Combating Trafficking in Persons for 2008-2010, which involved coordination and cooperation of all stakeholders.

For a long time, the Government had lacked any high-status national mechanism for women, the delegation admitted.  In order to redress that gap, the establishment of the Council of Government for Gender Equality had been approved as of 1 January this year.

And, since 1997, Government Ministries were training workers on victims’ rights, gender policy and funding for gender projects, the delegation said, pointing to the National Centre for Human Rights, which was also conducting educational campaigns to raise awareness about gender-related issues.  A “zero tolerance” policy of domestic violence had been promoted, and police officers had been trained in that regard.  A “Stop Domestic Violence against Women” media campaign had been launched in cooperation with non-governmental organizations.

The Committee will meet again at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, 18 July, to conclude its forty-first session.

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider Slovakia’s combined second, third and fourth periodic reports (document CEDAW/C/SVK/4).

The Slovak delegation was headed by Diana Štrofová, State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia, and also included:  Anina Botošová, Plenipotentiary of the Government of the Slovak Republic for the Roma Communities; Jozef Hlinka, Director of the Department of Parliamentary and Government Agenda and Advisory Activities of the Office of the Minister of Interior; Viera Hanuláková, Director of the Department of Gender Equality and Equal Opportunities of the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family; Milica Jančulová, Director of the Department of Human Rights of the Office of the Government of the Slovak Republic; Zuzana Vranová, Department of Gender and Equal Opportunities of the Ministry of Labour; Renata Puškárová, Department of Health Care of the Ministry of Health; Ondrej Gavalec, Office of the State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Anna Muriňová, Department of Human rights and the Council of Europe of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Eva Šurková, Permanent Mission of the Slovak Republic to the United Nations; and Ivo Poláček, interpreter.

Introduction of Reports

Presenting the report to the Committee, which monitors States parties’ compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Ms. ŠTROFOVÁ said that her country had ratified all core human rights conventions, and its legislation complied with the highest internationally recognized standards.  The status of women in Slovak society was based on fundamental legislative norms and international conventions, which were binding to the Slovak Republic and were granted priority over the country’s laws.

Ms. Štrofová stressed that Slovakia considered the Women’s Convention, to which the country had acceded in 1991, to be one of the most important international instruments, making it possible to thwart discrimination against women.  She regretted the delayed submission of the report, which had been caused by several factors, but pointed out that Slovakia had strengthened its activities and broadened its engagements at the international level in the period after having submitted the second, third and fourth periodic report.  For instance, in 2007 Slovakia had signed the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, as well as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Currently, both those Conventions were the subject of internal analysis for purposes of ratification, she explained.

Continuing, the Minister noted that, also in 2007, the country had supported the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  It had co-sponsored the resolution containing a draft text of the Optional Protocol on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights during the recent eighth session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.  Slovakia’s membership in the United Nations Security Council, as well as its chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, had ranked Slovakia among the internationally active States in the field of human rights.  That had resulted in Slovakia’s election to the United Nations Human Rights Council, where the country sought to pay special attention to the issues of social inclusion, the elimination of social and cultural prejudice and the promotion of racial and religious tolerance.

The delegation leader told the Committee that her country had not fulfilled all its intentions at the national level.  She drew attention to the country’s fundamental documents in the field of gender equality, among which were the Concept of Equal Opportunities between Women and Men of 2001.  That had been based on the Beijing Plan of Action and concluding observations of the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee, which had been adopted after the presentation of Slovakia’s initial report and the National Strategy on the Prevention and Elimination of Violence Committed against Women and in Families for the years 2005-2008.  The National Strategy for Gender Equality for 2009-2013 was currently under preparation and would replace the one that expired in 2007.  The national mechanisms for equal opportunities and gender equality had been established at several national levels.  The parliamentary level comprised -- along with the Committee on Human rights, Nationalities and the Status of Women of the National Council -- the Permanent Commission for Gender Equality and Equal Opportunities, which had been established after the 2006 elections.

For a long time, the Government had lacked any high-status national mechanism.  In order to redress that gap, establishment of the Council of Government for Gender Equality had been approved as of 1 January this year.  That Council was an advisory, coordination, expert and initiative body of the Government set up to implement the principles of gender equality.  Important political representatives of Government, and those of the country’s scientific institutions and various other significant bodies, were members of the Council, as were representatives of non-governmental organizations active in the areas of gender equality and discrimination against women.

Ms. Štrofová said that, since the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family coordinated the “horizontal priority” Equal Opportunities within the period between 2007 and 2013, an Equal Opportunities Assistance Centre had been established within the Department of Gender Equality and Equal Opportunities.  Moreover, a programme to train public servants at various levels of State administration had also been conducted in 2007, focusing primarily on the implementation of a gender approach and creating focal points for gender equality and gender mainstreaming at the ministries and in various regions of the country.  Further, the Government had recently begun an effort to combat human trafficking, especially in women, as well as to eliminate violence against women.

Also, the Government had this year adopted its National Programme for Combating Trafficking in Persons for 2008-2010, whose activities were focused on the cooperation and coordination of all stakeholders for purposes of eliminating risks and preventing trafficking in human beings, the Minister further explained.  The National Strategy was implemented with the political and financial backing of the Government, which took full responsibility for defining the objectives, implementation of measures and fulfilment of the Programme’s goals.  Civil society also participated actively in the Programme, particularly in the framework of the Programme of Assistance to Victims of Trafficking.  Specifically, the Ministry of Interior cooperated with five non-governmental organizations, whose activities were funded by the Ministry.  Those groups provided confidential shelters, health care, psychological and social consultant services and other auxiliary services.

Commenting specifically on the issue of violence against women, she stated that her Government considered the adoption of the National Action Plan for the Prevention and Elimination of Violence Committed against Women for 2005-2008 an important step forward.  One of the problems facing the National Plan was the lack of financial resources.  The bodies responsible for its execution had to cover the tasks resulting from the Plan from their own budgets, and that kind of financial coverage had not delivered the desired or expected results.  Thus, to prevent such shortcomings in the plan of action for the next cycle, from 2009 to 2012, the necessary financial resources would be demanded, including those required for the non-governmental organizations.  New activities would be covered also by financial allocations from the European Social Fund, whose planned budget was approximately $4 million.  The first national campaign -- “Stop Domestic Violence against Women” -- funded by the Government in 2007-2008 was an important follow-up activity, aimed at raising public awareness about gender-based violence.  Significant progress had been made to legislate the protection of victims of violence during the evaluation period.

As far as sexual and reproductive health was concerned, the Ministry of Health had prepared the National Programme for the Protection of Sexual and Reproductive Health.  It was based on the strategy of the World Health Organization-EURO and other important international documents.  Among the most important goals of the programme in the field of sexual and reproductive health were enhancement of quality and access to medical services in those two spheres, monitoring and control of venereal infections, including HIV/AIDS and the prevention of oncological diseases.  Other fields of focus included the prevention and elimination of domestic violence and sexual abuse, as well as the prevention of trafficking in women from the medical perspective.

She noted that sexual and reproductive health was closely linked to the alleged forced sterilization of Roma women, which had never been an official policy of her Government, nor was that an officially endorsed practice.  Therefore, the Slovak Government took no political responsibility for the execution of the alleged illegal sterilizations.  Indeed, accusations of forced sterilizations of Roma women in Eastern Slovakia had elicited the immediate reaction of the Government, which had led to a criminal prosecution conducted, under the auspices of the country’s Prosecutor’s General Office and the Parliamentary Committee for Human Rights.  The Minorities and Status of Women and civil society representatives had also been involved.  Additionally, an expert team had been created under the coordination of the Ministry of Health consisting of the representative of that Ministry and selected gynaecology and obstetrics experts, who performed special expert inspections, during the past 10 years at some 67 departments of obstetrics and gynaecology in the country.

The criminal prosecution was halted in October 2003, having found no evidence of the alleged criminal activities, she said.  “The investigation did not reveal any commission of any other criminal act in connection with the investigated commission”, she said, adding, “the inspection group of the Ministry of Health confirmed that genocide, discrimination against, or segregation of Roma women had not occurred at any of the gynaecological and obstetrical departments”.  Following those findings, the Government adopted several measures intended to prevent any future such suspicions from arising.  Those measures concerned, in particular, health-care legislation, such as the requirements for obtaining patients’ informed consent; the carrying out of sterilizations; and the provision of access to medical records.  The Penal Code also now recognized a new criminal act of “illegal sterilization”.  Additionally, the question of separation of sterilization from caesarean section had been resolved in the act by introducing a compulsory 30-day period between the patient’s informed consent and the sterilization intervention.

Despite important improvements in the field of equality between women and men in the labour market, there still remained some inequalities, she acknowledged.  The ratio of women and men in the labour market was relatively balanced -- women constituted 44 per cent of the total number of employed persons and 52 per cent of the total unemployed -- however, the gender segregation clearly affected remuneration.  The gender pay gap equalled 27 per cent in 2007.  She pointed to only a few professions where women had better wages than men, such as designers, hair-stylists and journalists.  The lowest remuneration group were middle-aged women.  Even those with a university education only received 65 per cent of their male counterparts’ remuneration.  Given that fact, solving the gender pay gap had become a priority.  Besides the horizontal segregation of the labour market, the Government, through the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family, was also targeting the vertical gender segregation, using alternative methods to cope with the social barriers that were limiting women’s access to the top management positions in politics and the economy.  Those methods included mentoring and coaching, creating networks, reconciling work and family life and promoting the corporate responsibility of business.

Overall, however, gender stereotypes in education and employment were relatively strong in Slovakia, she acknowledged.  While the level of education of women was about the same as that of men, it was, however, gender segregated, which had transposed into segregation in the broader labour market.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, commended Slovakia’s early ratification of the Optional Protocol, stressing, however, that more should be done to widely publicize it and the Convention.  What was the Government planning to do in that regard?  What were the barriers for women to bring cases to courts, and was legal aid available?  What was the Government planning to do to lower the threshold for women’s accessibility to the courts?

YOKO HAYASHI, expert from Japan, asked about the options for victims whose rights had been violated.  Did they have recourse outside the courts?  She asked the delegation to elaborate on the function of the National Centre for Human Rights and its relationship with the courts.

MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked for clarification on the Government mechanisms in place for women as they appeared to be changing names and functions.  She lamented the lack of progress in integrating and improving the lot of Roma women, and asked how their specific difficulties were being addressed.

HANNA BEATE SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked for an explanation of paragraph 11 of Ms. Botosova’s speech, in which the delegate said that the Government took no responsibility for illegal sterilizations because it had not endorsed them.  However, the lack of protection and action also fell under Slovakia’s human rights obligations.  She expressed some dismay over the amended Anti-Discrimination Act, indicating it still had not gone far enough.  Was the Government conducting extensive and ongoing training for parliamentarians on the Convention and temporary special measures?  How did Slovakia intend to apply temporary special measures?

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, Committee Chairperson and expert from Croatia, asked if there was training for the judiciary and law students on the Convention and the Optional Protocol?  Were there any cases before the courts in which the Convention had been invoked?

Country Response

A delegate said that since 1997, there had been two amendments made to the Anti-Discrimination Act.  The National Centre for Human Rights was updating its website periodically with developments in that regard.  Its decisions were not legally binding, but it made recommendations.

Another delegate said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had held a seminar last year to inform politicians about the Convention and the Optional Protocol.  Anyone could file a complaint with the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic, which would take into account the provisions of the Convention.

The courts were independent and could take into consideration recommendations of the National Centre for Human Rights, a delegate said.  There was a trend to try to eliminate court proceedings and solve conflicts through mediation instead.  The National Centre for Human Rights provided consultations, free of charge.

Government Ministries were training workers on victims’ rights, gender policy and funding for gender projects, a delegate said, adding that the National Centre for Human Rights was also conducting educational campaigns to raise awareness about that.

Referring to the newly named department -- the Department of Gender Equality and Equal Opportunities, another delegate explained that it would focus more on family-related and gender-equality issues, and develop gender policies for all Government Ministries.  It now had 14 employees.

Pointing to great acceptance of Roma’s identity in their communities, another delegate said that that acknowledgement was enabling them to begin to improve their lives.  The Government was trying to collaborate with non-governmental organizations to help Roma communities.

A delegate said the accusations of forced sterilization of Roma women in the country’s eastern part had led to a criminal investigation and prosecution.  The new Penal Code recognized the criminal act of “illegal sterilization”.  There was now a 30-day mandatory waiting period from the time a patient who had undergone a Caesarean section would be able to undergo sterilization; the sterilization could only be performed 30 days after the patient had consented to it.

The judiciary was trained on the provisions of the Convention, particularly to eliminate gender-based and domestic violence.  Law students were also taught about the Convention.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

NAELA MOHAMED GABRE, expert from Egypt, asked about the prevalence of trafficking in women.

HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked about the focus of the current national action plan to end violence against women.  What were the shortcomings the Government wanted to remedy?  Were women’s organizations participating in the plan?  Who was funding such action, the Government or the European Social Fund?  In training its judiciary, did the Government provide information about the Committee’s recommendation number 19 on violence against women?  Was the Government considering a separate legislation on domestic violence?  Was there a national telephone hotline for victims of violence?  How many shelters were available for women?  Did victims receive free services?  What was being done in terms of forced sterilizations?

FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, said statistics showed that the prevalence of domestic violence was high.  Was there a monitoring mechanism to assess implementation of legislation aimed at ending violence against women?  Was there any gender-based training for court professionals?  Eliminating violence against women was linked to gender stereotypes.  What concrete measures existed in the 2009-2010 action plan aimed at ending violence against women?  Was there a media campaign to shed light on the severity of violence against women?  If so, what had been its impact?  What funding was there for action plans to end violence against women?  Why had the Government not taken steps to offer compensation to victims of forced sterilization?

DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked if there were any awareness-raising programmes concerning domestic violence, particularly targeting Roma women.  Were there any media campaigns?  Would the Government conduct a study on violence against women, in order to develop strategies to end it?

SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, asked the delegation to elaborate on statistics and efforts to end violence against girls.

Country Response

A delegate said there were various training activities to end gender stereotypes.

Another delegate said the Government had prepared an Act on Trafficking in Human Beings, aimed at rescuing and rehabilitating victims.  Foreign victims of such violence were given treatment and assistance to either return home or obtain permanent residence in Slovakia.

The 2009-2013 national action plan was being drafted, another delegate said.  The budget for it had not yet been approved.  The plan would be fully financed from the national budget.

Another delegate said the action plan to end violence against women had been evaluated by the National Council of the Slovak Republic, as well as the Parliament.

Another delegate said a “zero tolerance” policy of domestic violence had been promoted, and police officers had been trained in that regard.  Additionally, a “Stop Domestic Violence against Women” campaign in print and broadcast media had been launched in cooperation with non-governmental organizations.

There were shelters, homes for single parents and crisis centres to assist victims of violence, a delegate said.  They provided medical care, counselling and legal assistance.  There were also six victims’ assistance hotlines.  Some victims’ centres charged very small fees, while others were free.  The current national action plan for children addressed violence against children.

Another delegate said the Government had conducted a study on all criminal offences committed against women.  Its results and evaluation were used to train police officers on how to better address women’s rights and cases concerning violence against women.

The issue of violence against girls was being dealt with through anti-trafficking plans, another delegate explained.

There was a general stereotype that Roma women liked to be hurt, another delegate said, adding that Roma women victims of violence could in fact contact crisis centres.  There had been some instances in which centres did not accept Roma women as readily as non-Roma women.  The Ministry of the Interior was working to address the rights of Roma women victims of violence.

Another delegate said the Government annually evaluated cases of homicides, including those connected with domestic violence.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, asked if there was a special law on trafficking, and whether anti-trafficking programmes were funded by the Government.

Country Response

A delegate said there was no separate law concerning trafficking.  There was, however, a national programme for assisting victims.  Slovakia was working in accordance with the Council of Europe’s guidelines concerning trafficking.  It was also collaborating with five non-governmental organizations to assist victims, including Roma women.  European funds supplemented the Government’s funding of national programmes for trafficking victims.  For the 2008—2010 period, the Government had allocated 8 million to 10 million Slovak koruny for those programmes.  It also worked with Interpol and other international experts to end trafficking.

A delegate said that 17 million Slovak koruny had been allocated this year for programmes for the Roma population, plus additional funds had been earmarked to raise awareness about the needs and rights of Roma women.  Roma communities indeed needed continuous and systematic assistance to improve their situation.

The Government was working to introduce temporary special measures and to implement them in a practical way, in order to prevent discrimination against women, another delegate said, adding that non-governmental organizations participated in that process.  The Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family was drafting a national plan to end gender-based discrimination, and that plan involved temporary special measures.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said women’s representation in political life and decision-making was rather static.  The country reports lacked sufficient data on that.  She asked that data and an assessment of progress in that regard be included in the next report.

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said that there were very few women in Parliament.  The Government must persevere to put more women in parliamentary seats and other political decision-making posts.

Country Response

A delegate said that a system of quotas in Parliament had not been introduced, and several political parties had introduced quotas in their own parties.

Another delegate noted that 63 per cent of Slovakia’s judges were women.  Of Slovakia’s 88 foreign missions, 10 were headed by women.

Twenty-five per cent of the country’s mayors were women, a delegate added.  Women held 38 per cent of top posts in the State service, but just 4 per cent of top posts in the private sector and 18 per cent of university professor posts.

Experience had showed that women were capable negotiators, but that gender stereotypes often held them back, a delegate admitted.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, said that the delegation’s answers to questions on the percentage of women in academia and the judiciary had not been adequately answered.  She expressed concern over gender stereotyping and the tendency to push young girls into specific areas of education.  Also, was sex education provided in schools, and was it part of more traditional courses, such as on family life and parenting?

ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, wanted to know why there had been no improvement in the status of women with regard to the pay disparities existing between them and their male counterparts.  What efforts had the Government made to comply with the Convention’s requirements and normalize that situation?  Also, had the Government set any specific targets to narrow the pay gaps?  That information was very important for evaluating progress towards implementing the Convention.

She also said Roma women had suffered “serious” discrimination, and had no access to training to improve their capacity and skills so as to put them on par with their male counterparts.

Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, following up on the theme of pay gaps, asked if the Government was giving the same priority as other European countries to raising women’s status by legislating equal pay for women and men.

MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, on raising the wages of women in sectors that were paid differently from men, observed that there was no evidence that Slovakia had legislated equal pay for equal value.

Country Response

A member of the delegation said that women could pursue their own ambitions, although usually that had consequences, as it led to even more unwanted stereotypes.  Another noted that the country now had new education curricula that aimed to address the issue of stereotypes in education.  Educators, including at the university level, should be trained, including through the gender studies that were being conducted.  As far as the textbooks were concerned, there was now a process of evaluating their gender content, although some were not yet fully compliant.

As for gender segregation in the labour market, and cultural and social spheres, she explained that the gender pay gaps were dependent on the performance of the national economy, generally.  The gender pay gap had increased since the last report.

Turning to legislation, there has been a refinement of the equal work for equal value legislature, another delegate said.  On the question of part-time work and how that impacted families, especially women, in Slovakia, she said that both parents were neededto work in order to support their family.  Women in general did not like part-time work as that was not convenient for them.

On the issue of Roma women and how they fared in the labour market compared to other groups in the country, a delegate said that no survey had been conducted to determine how many job applicants were Roma women.  On what measures were planned to change the general lack of education for Roma women and what was being done about it, the delegate acknowledged that the Roma women were seriously disadvantaged, owing to their poor education.  The programme of community social work was being planned, whereby Roma women would have new professions created for them, such as “social assistant”, which would identify children who were not in school.  Also, the need for Roma “health assistants” had been identified in schools for Roma children.  Such programmes aimed at encouraging Roma women to be examples in their communities and showed them that it paid to get a better education.  She promised the Committee better statistics in the next report, and acknowledged that the Government was not satisfied with the present situation insofar as the Roma was concerned, adding that everything possible was being done to address it.

Another delegate, addressing the question of equal pay, said that the Government firmly believed that specific measures were needed to resolve the gender pay gap.  There were no firm measures at the moment and while the Government was aware of the disparities in pay, it was taking steps that intended to correct the imbalance, through the labour inspectorate units of Government ministries.  The woman’s capability to participate in the labour market was reduced because of her responsibilities as a mother.  Steps were being taken to see how men could also take on some of the responsibilities that were currently shouldered by women alone.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, expressed concern over the country’s reproductive health services and lamented the low use of contraceptives and the fact that a doctor’s permission was needed for young women to obtain them.  Did the Government have detailed data on the use of contraceptives among women aged 15 to 25?  Was there a follow-up system to the forced sterilization allegations to determine the number of Roma women who had been subjected to them?

Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, said that the country report lacked sufficient data to assess the situation of women’s health care.  Had the Government used the Committee’s general recommendation 24 to frame health policies or services in a comprehensive manner?  Were health-care user fees affordable for all women, including Roma women?  She asked for statistics on abortion.

Ms. HAYASHI, expert from Japan, expressed concern that not one case of illegal sterilization had been identified in the report.  Was there any involvement of Roma groups on the Government’s board of investigation concerning the forced sterilizations?  Had the draft report disclosed to minority groups before it had been finalized?  In what way were sexual and reproductive health‑care services available for young women in Slovakia?

SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, said that if health service providers refused to provide services, measures should be introduced to assure that women were referred to alternative providers.  Did all women have access to reproductive health care, including lesbian women?

Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, noted that non-governmental organizations had taken various actions concerning the forced sterilization of Roma women, but the Government had not taken any action on that matter since it believed that doctors and other health-care personnel involved had not committed any violations.  However, the Government’s new Penal Code criminalized the practice of forced sterilization.  In adopting that new Code, wasn’t the Government recognizing that many Roma women were right to complain about what had occurred?

Country Response

A delegate said that in January 2003 a report involving non-governmental organizations had been released regarding the illegal sterilizations of Roma women, from 1999 to 2003.  An investigation team, which had included three members, had subsequently been created to look into the matter.  Because representatives of the non-governmental organization “Body and Soul” had refused to give statements to the police in order to protect their sources, Roma women had again been asked to report allegations to the police.  The resulting report had been published in the mass media.  It had involved the testimony of 134 witnesses.  Most women had claimed that the sterilization had been performed with their consent.  In cases where consent had not been given, an investigation had been carried out.  In one case, a Roma woman who had not given consent for sterilization had died due to complications of the uterus.  The Minister of Health had selected a team of experts from that Ministry, as well as from 67 departments of obstetrics and gynaecology, to investigate the matter.  As nothing criminal had been proven, the criminal prosecution had been suspended on 24 October 2003.  Complainants had filed a constitutional complaint in 2005.  In December 2006, the Constitutional Court had concluded that there had been shortcomings on the administrative aspect of the procedure.  The Constitutional Court had cancelled the decisions of the Prosecutor and the Investigator, and each of the three complainants had been awarded indemnification.

Another delegate said that sterilizations could only be performed with the written consent of the woman.  Abortion was not regarded as a method of contraception; it was considered a last resort.  All women had access to abortion.  There was no monitoring of sexual behaviour of young people, but the Government was working to become more responsive to their behaviour and thus reduce pregnancy among young girls.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, asked if there were Government-funded projects to improve women’s situation, and how many women employees had benefited from them.  Had the Government conducted any impact assessment studies and, if so, what had been the results?  Had they helped to improve the lives of Slovak women? Had the projects’ successes been evaluated and had successful projects been replicated elsewhere in the country?

Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, said that very little was said in the country reports and in Ms. Štrofová’s speech about family law and divorce.  How did the law regulate the economic consequences of divorce?  Were assets that had been accumulated during marriage equally split upon divorce?  Did women receive alimony?

Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, asked if co-habitating partners had the same property, inheritance and child custody rights as married couples upon divorce.  What was meant by “complete family households”?  How many were there in urban areas versus rural areas?  How many same sex partnership co-habitations existed?   Had a study been conducted on the plight of divorced women and their children?  How many single-parent households existed in urban areas versus rural areas?

Country Response

A delegate said that rural women had equal access to education and health care as women in urban areas.  Banks offered microcredit to women on a small scale, but traditional loans were more common.

The Government worked through various programmes to ensure that women were not pigeonholed into traditionally female-dominated fields only or paid less for equal work as men, another delegate explained.  The highest concern of the courts in divorce cases was to maintain the standard of living of children, regardless of whether their parents had been married or had been co-habitating partners.

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