Adoption of Gender-Equality Strategy, Domestic Violence Laws Led to Women’s Improved Status, Bulgarian Delegation Tells Anti-Discrimination Committee

12 July 2012
WOM/1915

Adoption of Gender-Equality Strategy, Domestic Violence Laws Led to Women’s Improved Status, Bulgarian Delegation Tells Anti-Discrimination Committee

12 July 2012
General Assembly
WOM/1915
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Elimination of

 Discrimination against Women

1045th & 1046th Meetings (AM & PM)

Adoption of Gender-Equality Strategy, Domestic Violence Laws Led to Women’s

 

Improved Status, Bulgarian Delegation Tells Anti-Discrimination Committee

 

Expert Members Concerned about Failure to Integrate

Roma Women, Gender Stereotyping, High School Dropout Rates among Girls

Bulgaria’s adoption of a gender-equality strategy and its enactment of legislation to combat domestic violence and discrimination had bolstered women’s status in politics and the workplace, led to better protection from abuse, and established a viable avenue for seeking redress, members of that country’s delegation said today while presenting its combined fourth to seventh periodic reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

“New critical legislation has been adopted and new structures established to ensure integrating a gender dimension into governmental policies and practices, and to foster the protection of women’s rights,” said Stephan Tafrov, Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the United Nations and head of the eight-member delegation.  The 2005 anti-domestic violence law had had “far-reaching implications” as it established the framework for preventing violence, protecting victims and penalizing offenders.  It had led to a 2009 amendment to the Penal Code that criminalized perpetrators who failed to comply with protection orders, Mr. Tafrov said.

He went on to state that the 2004 anti-discrimination legislation – which harmonized Bulgaria’s patchwork of laws — required the authorities, employers and educators to take proactive steps in guaranteeing equal opportunity and treatment for both sexes, and helped victims seek justice through the Commission for Protection against Discrimination and the court system.  Implementation of the 2008-2015 Strategy for Promotion of Gender Equality, he continued, had rolled back discriminatory regulations that barred women from serving as military officers, and introduced new teaching methods and textbooks in classrooms that celebrated the country’s heroines and historical figures for the first time.

Among the myriad other steps taken to empower women and strengthen implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, he continued, was legislation to criminalize trafficking in persons, national strategies to women from the marginalized Roma population both economically and politically, a campaign to increase the number of female business leaders, and public-private partnerships to erase gender stereotypes.  Bulgaria had ratified the Convention in 1982, he noted.

Expert members of the Committee, which monitors States parties’ compliance with the Convention, applauded those gains but expressed concern that, among other things, the Constitution only provided temporary special measures to marginalized groups; efforts to end the trafficking of women and girls had been ineffective, particularly in the case of Roma women; and the Penal Code did not punish perpetrators of sexual violence and rape if they married their respective victims.

Committee members also cited the absence of shelters for domestic violence victims, high early dropout rates among Roma schoolgirls, the lack of awareness about entrenched gender stereotypes, Bulgaria’s 14-year lapse in reporting to the Committee, and the fact that the Convention seemed “invisible” in that country and was seldom evoked.

Delegation members responded by pointing to the Government’s successes in combating trafficking in women, citing several cases in which leaders and members of several organized crimes groups had been tried, jailed and heavily fined by a special criminal court set up to tackle such cases.  They also cited steps by the National Commission for Protection against Discrimination to pull advertisements that portrayed women negatively, and to train media professionals to raise awareness about gender stereotyping.  The Ministry of Education and Science had established a new strategy to deal with dropouts, supported by a budget allocation of 12 million Bulgarian levs, the Committee heard.

Mr. Tafrov explained that the Government’s intent focus on negotiations relating to Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union had detracted from its obligation to report to the Committee over the last decade.  Now that the Government had dealt with the accumulated delay, its reporting obligations would be met, he said, noting that, in order to raise the Convention’s profile, the Government had conducted training programmes and workshops for educators, media professional and the members of the judiciary.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 13 July, to consider Jamaica’s combined sixth and seventh periodic reports.

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to take up the combined fourth to seventh periodic reports of Bulgaria (document CEDAW/C/BGR/4-7).  For background information, please see Press Release WOM/1911 of 9 July.

Stephan Tafrov, Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the United Nations, led his country’s delegation, which also included Daniela Masheva, Prosecutor at the Supreme Cassation Prosecutor’s Office; Rositsa Georgieva, Member, Commission for Protection against Discrimination; Ilka Kaydzhiyska, Senior Expert, “Equal opportunities, anti-discrimination and social welfare assistance” Department, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy; Ivan Anchev, Counsellor and Representative of the Ministry of the Interior in the United States; Maria Pavlova, Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Bulgaria; and Nadia Krasteva, First Secretary, Human Rights Directorate, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Introduction of Report

Mr. TAFROV introduced the combined report by stating that 2012 marked the thirtieth anniversary of his country’s enactment of the Convention.  The principle of equal opportunity to rights and freedoms was enshrined in the Constitution of Bulgaria, which was a party to the main international human rights treaties and had accepted the most far-reaching scrutiny of its human rights record.  It had made significant efforts to duly implement the Committee’s recommendations resulting from its consideration of the country’s 1998 report.

Since then, there had been several improvements to the normative framework and national machinery to address women’s issues and strengthen implementation of the Convention, he said.  “New critical legislation has been adopted and new structures established to ensure integrating a gender dimension into governmental policies and practices, and to foster the protection of women’s rights,” he added, citing the 2004 Law on Protection against Discrimination and the 2005 Law on Protection against Domestic Violence.

He went on to say that the anti-discrimination law consolidated and harmonized Bulgaria’s anti-discrimination legislation; banned direct and indirect gender discrimination, including sexual harassment; obliged authorities, employers and educators to take affirmative steps to guarantee equal opportunity and treatment; and set in motion the creation of an independent body to ensure protection from and prevention of discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.  Victims could submit complaints to the courts or to the Commission for Protection against Discrimination, which cooperated closely with civil society and the media to conduct training and gender-awareness campaigns, he said.

The anti-domestic violence law, which had been amended in 2009 and 2010, established the necessary framework for preventing and protecting victims and defined action against perpetrators, he continued.  It had “far-reaching implications” as it created the conditions for implementing programmes aimed at prevention and assistance to victims.  In 2009, the Penal Code had been amended to criminalize non-compliance with protection orders concerning domestic violence, he said.

Bulgaria had criminalized trafficking in persons since 2002, he said, adding that the National Anti-Trafficking Commission established under the 2003 Law on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings coordinated the activities of the relevant institutions and organizations.  Additionally, clear anti-discrimination provisions had been incorporated into such normative frameworks as the Labour Code, the Law on Social Assistance, the Law on Encouraging Employment, the Civil Service Law, the Law on Child Protection and the Law on Asylum and Refugees, among others.

Citing recent normative and institutional developments affecting the status of women, he said that on 1 March 2012, the legislature had adopted the National Strategy for Roma Integration 2012-2020, which, drafted in partnership with Roma representatives, focused on preventing discrimination against the Roma population.  An action plan had been set up to implement the first phase of the Decade for Roma Inclusion, 2005-2015, and the second phase, from 2015 to 2020, would take into account the “Europe 2020” strategy.  The Penal Code had been amended in 2011 to strengthen the response to hate crimes, he said, adding that a special criminal court had been established to address organized crime cases, including trafficking in persons.

There had been an increase in the number of partnerships with non-governmental organizations, especially those aimed at effectively promoting gender equality and non-discrimination, he said.  Gender perspectives were addressed through the Committee on Human Rights, Religious Issues, Citizens’ Complaints and Petitions, a standing body of the National Assembly; the National Council for Equal Opportunities for Women and Men; the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues, and its Commission on the Integration of Roma; as well as gender experts, public defenders and mediators appointed by local municipalities or public councils.

The 2008-2015 Strategy for Promotion of Gender Equality, adopted by the Council of Ministers, was consistent with the Convention and the “ Beijing +” documents, he said.  Its implementation had improved the status of women in social and political life.  For example, the Ministry of Defence had revoked discriminatory regulations barring women from serving as military officers.  The Air Force Academy had opened its doors to women and had thus far admitted two for specialized pilot training.  The Ministry of Education, Youth and Science had incorporated a gender dimension into mandatory programmes such as history and philosophy, in addition to training teachers on how to approach gender-related issues in the classroom.

To promote equal participation by women and men in decision-making in the business sector, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policies actively supported the initiative of the Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission, aimed at nominating qualified women to replace outgoing male members of governing bodies in order to achieve 30 per cent representation of women by 2015 and 40 per cent by 2020.  A total of 13 companies had agreed to abide by those targets, he said, adding that, thanks to a programme promoting women’s entrepreneurship in agriculture, they now accounted for 41.5 per cent of Bulgaria’s farmers.

The 2012 National Action Plan on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, he said, had set out specific measures to promote gender equality, ensure better representation of women in public and private-sector decision-making, erase gender stereotypes and prevent violence against women.  More than 100 non-governmental organizations had shaped the women’s movement, many of them having actively participated in equal opportunity networks in South-east Europe.  Bulgaria’s main trade unions and political parties had set up women’s organizations to promote gender equality.

He said the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, in close cooperation with relevant civil society groups and national human rights institutions, carried out regular training in gender mainstreaming for experts from the central and local authorities.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had set up a special working group to elaborate a national plan to implement Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security.  The Ministry of Defence conducted a “Female Leaders in Security and Defence” project.  Since 2008, the Ministry of Interior had participated in the South East Europe Women Police Officers Network, which had developed specific guidelines on gender-sensitive policing practices.  In 2010, a special report on recruitment, admission, training and career development of women to the police service had been presented in Sofia, he said.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, stated that the last constructive dialogue between the Committee and Bulgaria had been in 1998.  As a result, the current report covered a particularly long period, which constituted a breach of reporting obligations.  She requested information about the Parliament’s role in the report’s preparation the report since it seemed to have been prepared by non-governmental organizations.  Further, Bulgaria had ratified the Convention, but had not “promulgated” it, she noted, asking whether the delegation could explain that inconsistency.

VICTORIA POPESCU, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert from Romania, expressed admiration for Bulgaria’s achievements, particularly in the legal area, concerning domestic violence and trafficking.  However, the Convention’s status seemed “legally binding but not domestically applicable”, she pointed out, expressing concern over its “invisibility”.  Alternative sources had reported that the Convention was seldom evoked and that the Supreme Court had expressed the view that it was binding “only on the State and not on the courts”.  Hopefully that was an isolated perception, she said, asking whether there Bulgaria carried out systematic training for judges, law-enforcement personnel and the public.  She also requested information about women’s access to the courts.

NICOLE AMELINE, Vice-Chairperson and expert from France, welcomed Bulgaria’s commitment to the Roma people and asked for additional information about specific provisions for Roma women and girls.  She also requested details about the mechanism for implementing the Convention.

Delegation’s Response

Mr. TAFROV said the problem of promulgation was a matter of translation, adding that the Bulgarian Constitution provided for the enactment of international treaties.  In 1982, when the country had ratified the Convention, under the legislation and regime of the day, not all international treaties were published in the State gazette.  However, the Convention had been made widely available since that time.

Explaining the context of the delay in submitting the present report, he said that in 1988, the Government had been focused on negotiations relating to Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union and had lagged behind in its various reporting obligations.  Now that it had dealt with the accumulated delay, reporting deadlines would be met, he pledged.  Regarding preparation of the report, the Council of Ministers had delegated the reporting to various ministries which had worked in collaboration with each other.  As for the mechanism for implementing the Convention, the national strategy was being implemented through annual national action plans evaluated by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

On the subject of the Convention’s visibility, another delegation member said that training materials on the treaty included the texts of the Convention and its Optional Protocol.  They were translated into Bulgarian and published online.  The Government also conducted workshops on the Convention and related issues for target groups from education, the media and other fields, he said.

Another delegate stated that systematic training was provided for judges and prosecutors.  The statement by the Supreme Court judge was an isolated one, she assured the Committee. The anti-discrimination provisions were new to Bulgaria’s legal system, and members of the Commission and the courts were all learning together.  Bulgaria was also taking stock of the office of ombudsman and reviewing ways in which to strengthen it.

Another delegate took up the question of discrimination against the Roma, saying that Bulgaria had a national integration strategy which had been prepared in consultation with that community.  Six key areas had been identified, including education, employment, health, housing, rule of law and non-discrimination.

Mr. TAFROV added that more and more women were bringing their claims to the courts and to the Commission against Discrimination.  The latter had smoother procedures and faster results, and was therefore seen as more efficient and accessible.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, said she was still unclear about the Parliament’s role in preparing the report in front of her.  Had it been presented to the relevant parliamentary committee?  Had Bulgaria translated all the Committee’s 28 general recommendations, and were they part of the training for the judiciary?

NIKLAS BRUUN, expert from Finland, asked whether Bulgaria had procedures in place to correct court judgements or wrong applications of law, even by the Supreme Court.

Delegation’s Response

Mr. TAFROV said the Parliament had not adopted the current report, and there were no instruments in the legislature to make that necessary.  The whole body of the Convention, including the recommendations, had been translated and made available to the Parliament and the judicial system.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

PATRICIA SCHULZ, expert from Switzerland, said the Constitution seemed to provide special temporary measures only for marginalized groups.  Neither the Constitution nor the law against discrimination seemed to provide the possibility of using temporary special measures to overcome the disadvantages faced by women.  The realization of equality required taking special temporary measures such as allocating resources, preferential treatment, and quota systems.

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, recalled that the Committee had previously recommended certain revisions to the law on violence against women and domestic violence.  What was the possibility of those revisions happening? she asked.

AYSE FERIDE ACAR, expert from Turkey, noted that there seemed to be a continuing insistence on women’s traditional roles as mothers.  That was a root cause of many of the problems of gender inequality.  Was there a comprehensive approach to tackling the root cause of patriarchy and gender stereotyping? She also asked whether domestic violence and marital rape were criminalized under the Penal Code.  Finally, she asked what the “crimes against sexual morality” mentioned in the report were, saying that did not sound like good news for women.

VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, commended Bulgaria’s significant efforts to combat trafficking in human beings.  However, it was regrettable that efforts to end the trafficking of women and girls, particularly for sexual exploitation, had not been effective, and that awareness-raising campaigns were not made available to Roma women, who were at high risk for trafficking.  What was being done to reach Roma women and others that they were vulnerable? she asked.  Were there economic empowerment programmes and other forms of assistance targeting them?  Were the authorities being trained to properly inform victims of their rights during criminal proceedings, including their right to compensation?  Requesting data on the sentences imposed on convicted trafficking offenders, she also asked how many women had received assistance from the two State-run shelters in the last two years.  What was the extent of prostitution in Bulgaria, and did the Government provide exit programmes for women wishing to the leave the trade?  Had anyone been prosecuted for using the sexual services of trafficked women?

Delegation’s Response

Mr. TAFROV, acknowledging that temporary special measures existed only partially in Bulgaria, asked whether he could provide more detail in writing.  The country’s media were controlled by women, who used their positions to promote women’s empowerment, he said, pointing out that women owned two of the three main television networks, and headed two of the largest newspapers.

Regarding gender stereotypes in the media, a delegate recalled that in 2011, the National Commission for Protection against Discrimination had conducted surveys on gender stereotyping in textbooks.  It revealed that women were undervalued and that female leaders were rarely mentioned in history, science or other areas.  Every year, the Commission organized training seminars for media professionals to raise awareness about gender stereotyping, she said, noting that it had issued several decisions.  In cooperation with the Council of Electronic Media, it had banned the posting in public spaces of advertisements reflecting gender stereotypes and violating the human dignity of women.

Regarding trafficking, another delegate said that an organized crime group which had trafficked women to Belgium and Austria had been prosecuted.  In September 2011, the leader of the organized crime group 7-7-7 had been convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison, while other members had received 11 years.  He cited other examples of prison sentences and fines amounting to thousands of euro imposed on organized crime groups that had trafficked women overseas.

Another delegate cited training programmes aimed at sensitizing police officers to women’s human rights issues and ongoing special projects conducted in collaboration with the National Commission to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings.  On Roma women, she said the Government worked with “health mediators” to address their health-care needs.  Regarding early marriage, Bulgarian non-governmental organizations were implementing European Union-funded projects to end the practice, she said.  A 2010 study of 2,746 individuals in 595 households revealed that the average age of cohabitation in Roma communities was 18 years, and that education was the most important tool for preventing early marriage.

Mr. TAFROV, emphasizing the high number of victims trafficked for sexual exploitation, cited national media and public relations campaigns aimed at helping victims, mainly vulnerable groups like the Roma.

Another delegate added that there were several programmes for training judges and prosecutors on the issue of trafficking for sexual exploitation.  Bulgaria had several joint projects with the European Commission to combat trafficking, she said, adding that the Government had established a special criminal court to tackle cases of human trafficking committed by organized crime groups.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. SCHULZ, expert from Switzerland, noted that women seemed to be very active citizens in Bulgaria, participating more than men in elections.  But the percentage of women in Parliament had declined over the years, she said, asking whether the Government would consider taking temporary special measures to improve the ratio of women legislators.

Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, raised the question of women in diplomacy, pointing out that although women comprised more than 40 per cent of Ministry of Foreign Affairs employees, only five out of more 70 seventy missions abroad were headed by female ambassadors.  Were there any discussions in the Ministry to consider what obstacles women faced in advancing their careers in diplomacy?

Delegation’s Response

Mr. TAFROV said that women in positions of responsibility were there due to their own strengths.  The current Parliament was chaired by a woman, as was the leader of the ruling party’s parliamentary group, one of Bulgaria’s most influential people.  The representative to the European Union, one of the country’s most popular politicians, was also a woman, he said, adding that the picture was “much more nuanced” than what had just been described.  He went on to say that the position of women in the media was “extraordinary”, with most of the key players being women.  Noting that it took a lot of time to advance a diplomatic career, he pointed out that the Foreign Ministry under the previous Government had contained only men, and that women had joined it in the last 15 years.  They had not had the time to advance their careers, he added.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. SCHULZ, expert from Switzerland, asked whether it would be possible to obtain updated numbers of women’s participation in diplomatic and public service.

Ms. POPESCU, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert from Romania, asked whether there were any financial incentives to encourage women belonging to vulnerable groups such as the Roma to participate in public service or seek political office.  Referring to Mr. Tafrov’s statement that a diplomatic career required time to advance, she suggested that that was a stereotype.

Delegation’s Response

Mr. TAFROV said the Government was not considering any temporary measures in politics because Bulgarian women were participating quite successfully in politics.  In fact, women politicians were often considered more accessible, and that had been an incentive for political parties to include more female politicians.

Responding to questions about human trafficking, a member of the delegation said it was a criminal act under Bulgarian laws.  A person who persuaded another to become involved in prostitution could be imprisoned for up to three years and fined heavily.  There was also a European Union directive on human trafficking, she said.  Bulgaria had established working groups under the Ministry of Justice to draft laws on preventing domestic violence, and a national mechanism for compensating victims of domestic violence was also under consideration.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. SCHULZ, expert from Switzerland, said there seemed to be a lack of sufficient awareness about the structural nature of the discrimination faced by women.  She said that while she had often been confronted by the “let things happen in their due course” argument in her own country, a study several years ago had calculated that it would take 914 years for women to reach parity in employment at the current rate.  Temporary special measures were extremely crucial in a society where gender stereotypes were active, as were practically all societies.

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, said was surprised by Article 158 of the Bulgarian Penal Code, which stated that perpetrators of sexual violence and rape would not be punished if the perpetrator married the victim.  That provision was certainly not in line with the Convention, and the Committee encouraged its rapid repeal, she said.

Ms. ACAR, expert from Turkey, asked whether domestic violence and marital rape were penalized under the Penal Code, and reiterated her question about the meaning of “crimes against sexual morality”.  What was being done about the inadequate number of shelters for victims of domestic violence, specifically, as opposed to victims of child abuse and trafficking?

Ms. POPESCU, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert from Romania, asked about the existence of exit programmes for women wishing to leave prostitution, and about sanctions for sexual harassment of women.  She encouraged the delegation to provide information that would allow the Committee to get a clear picture of women in decision-making, not only in elected posts but also in consultative bodies.

Delegation’s Response

Mr. TAFROV said the discussion with the Committee would certainly create “useful echoes” in Bulgaria, and decisions would be taken accordingly.

Another delegate stated that marital rape was a crime, and that marriage between perpetrator and victim could release the perpetrator.

Mr. TAFROV added that the Penal Code was currently under review.  Possibly that provision “would disappear”, he said, adding that he was surprised to hear about it.  Undoubtedly, knowing the philosophy of the current legislators, such provisions would not be tolerated, and the language about “crimes against sexual morality” would also disappear in the revisions.

Turning to the question about shelters, he said some of them shelters were at the municipal level and municipalities often lacked the resources for separate facilities.  Victims of domestic violence often needed child care in their facilities, and children were therefore also housed in the same shelter.

He said there were many different approaches to prostitution in Europe whereas in Bulgaria, it was in a limbo – neither legal nor illegal.  There was currently a national debate about how to limit prostitution, and more information, including statistics, would be available after the debate concluded.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. ACAR, expert from Turkey, recognizing that the proportion of girls in kindergarten and schools was either at parity or almost there, said, however, that study areas seemed to be gender-segregated, especially in vocational secondary education, which translated into lower incomes for women.  It seemed from the report that following graduation, men went into business whereas women became teachers.  Bulgaria was known to have very high percentages of female staff in higher education — something to be complimented.  In a country where women were so well-educated, why was the dropout rate for Roma children so high, she asked, requesting information about specific policies to combat early dropout rates and non-attendance on the part of the Roma.

Ms. BRUUN, expert from Finland, expressed concern about the effective implementation of legislation on employment, and asked what measures were being taken to resolve the problems of job market segregation and the pay gap between men and women in the public sector.  Noting that gender roles were so entrenched, that few men seemed to use paternity leave and benefits, he asked what the Government was doing to raise more awareness about that.

ZOHRA RASEKH, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert from Afghanistan, congratulated the Government of Bulgaria for keeping maternal mortality rates very low.  However, alternative sources had reported that the health-care system was not patient-friendly, especially to women and the Roma.  Doctors were protected by the system and immune from malpractice.  Was there a bill of rights to protect patients from mistreatment and the negligence of health-care providers?

Ms. POPESCU, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert from Romania, said poverty remained a big problem, especially among women at risk, such as rural women.  Did Bulgaria’s anti-poverty strategies include a gender perspective?  There was a tendency throughout Europe to reduce social benefits and protection, she noted, asking whether Bulgarian women, especially women farmers, faced similar challenges.  What kind of pension was available to older rural women who had lifted heavy burdens during the socialist era?  Congratulating the Government on its recent ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, she requested an update on the situation of women with disabilities.

Delegation’s Response

Mr. TAFROV cautioned against labelling vocational education as gender-segregated.  “There were imbalances, but segregation? No.”  Bulgaria had implemented quotas to ensure there was a gender balance in different areas, he said.

Regarding dropout rates, another delegate said the problem was indeed severe among Roma children.  Early marriage among Roma girls contributed to their dropping out of school at the age of 12 or 13.  Another ethno-cultural reason was the perception that school success and education was not attractive and did not result in direct practical benefits.  The Ministry of Education and Science was establishing a new strategy to deal with dropouts, supported by a budget allocation of 12 million Bulgarian levs, she said.

Mr. TAFROV, responding to the question about pay gaps, said that in 2010, women in Bulgaria had been making 13.7 per cent less than men, which, compared to the European Union average of 18 per cent, was a low gap, though it was closing further.

Regarding sexual harassment, another delegate said the Government had organized a special campaign on raising awareness of how women could protect their rights, and how the Commission against Discrimination could help them.  Every year since the Commission’s creation, there were more cases, which suggested improvement in that area.

Mr. TAFROV, turning to the question of health care, stated:  “If a woman had problems with a doctor, it was because she was a patient and not because she was a woman.”  He added that he was therefore at a loss in discussing the problems of the health-care system in the present forum.

SILVIA PIMENTEL, Committee Chairperson and expert from Brazil, intervened to point out that women in every country lived a different reality compared to men, and that it was important to include a gender perspective in every sector, including healthcare.

Mr. TAFROV said there had been a serious problem in hospitals whereby money was demanded from women about to give birth.  The problem had been highlighted in the media and hospitals had been prevented from seeking payment. 

He said plans were under way to amend the law on asylum so as to incorporate a gender perspective were underway and he expressed hope they would be adopted in the foreseeable future.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. PIMENTEL, Committee Chairperson and expert from Brazil, said that a study in her country had revealed that medical doctors spent less time examining black female patients than white females.  That example illustrated what was meant by a “gender perspective”.

RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, hailed the Government’s steps on marital law, but expressed concern over whether women were properly informed about their economic choices in marriage and divorce.  While welcoming the fact that the financial contributions of the “stay-at-home” partner were duly considered, and that marital property was distributed equally during divorce proceedings, she asked what was, in fact, considered marital property.  Did it include pension funds and other financial assets?  Were future assets and future earnings potential taken into account?  Did the Government offer social security to women when the fathers of their children defaulted on child support payments?  What were the procedures for collecting child support, and were they cumbersome?  Were women seeking divorce entitled to legal aid? What was the extent of early marriage in the country?

Delegation’s Response

A member of the delegation said the risks of early marriage were greater among impoverished, uneducated women, particularly the Roma, but the community was in the process of modernizing its traditional family model.

Mr. TAFROV said he would provide answers to the other questions in writing, as they were not readily available.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. RASEKH, expert from Afghanistan, said it was disappointing that after a long delay in reporting to the Committee, the delegation did not include an expert from the Ministry of Health to answer health-related questions.  Women in Bulgaria suffered from a lack of patients’ rights, particularly in respect of reproductive health and cancer treatment.  For example, women often did not undergo the necessary screenings due to restricted time frames.  The Government must have comprehensive health-care policies in place and they should be properly implemented, she stressed.

Ms. POPESCU, expert from Romania, said the delegation had not responded to her questions about elderly women and those with disabilities.

Delegation’s Response

Mr. TAFROV said those questions would be answered promptly in writing.  Conceding that he could not answer many of the questions in detail as he was not an expert on women’s issues, he emphasized that the Government’s approach was one of partnership with Bulgarian women.

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