Committee on the Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
497th Meeting (PM)
KAZAKHSTAN RESPONDS TO QUESTIONS BY WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this afternoon to hear the replies of Kazakhstan to questions on its initial report (document CEDAW/C/KAZ/1). The report was first considered on 18 January, at which time the Committee’s 23 experts asked questions regarding Kazakhstan’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. (For background information see, Press Release WOM/1248 of 18 January.)
Responding to the questions, Kazakhstan’s Minister and Chair of the National Committee on Family and Women’s Affairs, Aitkul B. Samakova, said that a number of changes and additions had been made to the law in relation to illegal activities against women. The upper limit of punishment had been increased in such areas as rape and other sexual violence. She also touched on such issues as education, employment and the participation of women in politics.
Ms. Samakova stressed that improving the environment was one of the most important jobs facing the Government of Kazakhstan. The unfavorable environment was the reason for about 80 per cent of the diseases in the population. Ecological problems were being resolved with help from the international community, and the Government was doing its part by adopting urgent measures to increase medical services to the population.
Summing up the discussion, the Acting Chairperson of the Committee, Ayse Feride Acar of Turkey, said the political will of the Government of Kazakhstan to implement the Convention was obvious. Efforts to strengthen the national machinery were encouraging, and she welcomed the fact that prosecution of rape was ensured by the public prosecutor, irrespective of complaints by victims.
Several experts had pointed out that, to fully comply with the demands of the Convention, it was necessary for the Government to incorporate the definition of discrimination in its national legislation. Other issues that called for attention included women’s economic equality and their participation in the economic development of the country.
The Committee will meet again at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, 24 January, in order to consider the initial country report of Maldives.
AITKUL B. SAMAKOVA, Kazakhstan's Minister and Chair of the National Committee on Family and Women's Affairs, said that when she had presented the report of Kazakhstan on implementation of the Convention, about 150 questions had been asked by Committee experts. According to the Constitution of Kazakhstan,
ratified international treaties took priority over national law. Thus, the Convention was part of Kazakh law.
A National Plan of Action had been initiated that coincided with the Beijing Platform of Action, she said. Many ministries and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were involved in the implementation of the Plan, which called for a new draft law on equal rights and opportunities. She hoped that this draft law would be adopted this year. The Government was also in the process of developing an Ombudsman's Office, which would be dealing with the questions of gender equality.
The National Commission of the Family and Children was formed by presidential edict as an institutional mechanism to advance the rights of women, she said. It was a consultative body made up of 23 representatives, and the first lady of Kazakhstan was the honorary president. A similar institution, the Commission on Human Rights, had also been created by presidential edict and was a consultative body to the Head of State. It considered allegations on human rights and freedoms. The work of both of the commissions was carried out according to the Constitution of Kazakhstan, and they interacted with international and domestic organizations.
Regarding religion, she said that the Constitution prohibited discrimination based on one's religious conviction.
She said that there had been a study undertaken by the Government on women and violence which gave details about this phenomenon in Kazakhstan. The Government was working on a draft law on violence in the home, and the Convention would be taken into account. As the report had indicated, there were 12 crisis centres operating in Kazakhstan, and another one had just opened. There were also crisis hotlines that received 1,500 telephone calls a day from women who had been victims of violence. The dissemination of things that propagated the cult of cruelty and violence was a crime.
A number of changes and additions had been made to the law in relation to illegal activities against women, she said. The upper limit of punishment had been increased in such areas as rape and violence of a sexual nature. Lesbianism and homosexuality were considered to be illegal, where a helpless victim of such practices had been exploited.
The labour law, she said, contained special provisions that prohibited labour discrimination. No one could be discriminated against based on gender, race, nationality, language, attitude to religion, conviction or citizenship. Those who felt that they had been victims of discrimination could make a statement and go to court about it.
The employer provided workers with a number of benefits, she said, and social benefits were given to parents who had adopted a child. As to why men were paid more than women, the difference depended on the difference of the job being done and the level of the workload involved. As for the comment about the first to be fired being women, in all cases, any decision by an employer to fire someone could be appealed.
The representation of women in the justice system was much higher than in other systems, she said. In fact, women were the absolute majority, as the Supreme Court staff had more than 60 per cent women.
She said that temporary special measures had been enacted in some cases to help achieve de facto equality between men and women. Women could retire five years earlier than men. At the present time, men received a pension at 62 and women at 57. The law on pensions said that women with five or more children were entitled to a pension when they reached the age of 50. That age would be increased to 53 in July 2004. Those were examples of positive discrimination against women. As equality between men and women increased, many of those policies would be rescinded.
Kazakhstan was carrying out a programme to develop its light industry, she said. Anti-dumping measures had been adopted, and there had been support for women’s entrepreneurship in order for them to receive credit.
She said the criminal code called for the punishment of the exploitation and illegal trafficking of women and children. The trading of a minor child to other people for money was also punishable by law and involved imprisonment for three to 10 years. The punishment increased if there was harm or injury to the child.
There was a lot of working being done in the field of education to retrain people in social and cultural models. In 2001, schools would start to include gender disciplines within their curricula. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had assisted the Government in spreading the idea of gender equality. Also, more than 300 television programmes had been produced about this subject and sexist stereotypes were starting to change. All media representatives carried out their work pursuant to the law on media, which regulated the retail trade of publish material of an erotic nature.
Regarding the participation of women in political life, a women’s party had registered in order to consolidate women’s efforts in the political sphere. There had been a big discussion about introducing quotas in order to help achieve parity, but many believe that they were unnecessary, as women accounted for almost 50 per cent of the civil service. A delegation was going to be sent to Sweden to study the advances that had been made in this and other areas.
As the President had encouraged a larger role for NGOs in the overall political life of the country, that role had intensified.
There were more women than men in higher education, but men reflected a greater percentage of those in secondary and primary education, she said. Access was equal for men and women to all educational facilities. The high level of education among women ensured access to high paying jobs. There was no ban on the separation of education for boys and girls, or encouragement for it. Standard education at all schools was uniform.
She said that most of the labour force had moved from the public to the private sector. The laws protected citizens from any sort of discrimination in the labour market. The Government provided targeted support for certain population groups that had less income and lived alone, as well as those with a lot of children. Women had access to jobs on a part-time basis in various sectors of the economy, including industry. In 1999, the level of unemployment among women had dropped to 12.4 per cent.
The worsening of the socio-economic problems in the country had led to a reduction of allocations set aside for health services, she said. In the most recent year, urgent measures had been adopted to increase medical services to the population, especially those living in the countryside. Thanks to the work being done by family planning agencies and international organizations, the number of abortions had dropped by 29 per cent. The number of women contracting breast cancer had remained stable.
Far fewer women smoked than men, but the percentage of women smoking had gone up in recent years, she said. To partially address this issue, the Parliament had adopted a new administrative code that would punish people that sold tobacco products to children. Over the last five years, life expectancy had increased for women.
The Minister stressed that improving the environment was one of the most important jobs facing the Government of Kazakhstan. The unfavorable environment was the reason for about 80 per cent of the diseases that people suffered from. Ecological problems were being resolved with help from the international community.
Because of the worsening of the socio-economic situation in the country, there was now a problem of providing food for the rural population. Rural women enjoyed equal rights with men in every activity. There was a micro-credit programme for the poorest population of Kazakhstan. There was a trend for rural women to have larger families, but they still took an active part in the work of the country. Market reform had changed the mentality of rural women who were now setting up businesses and taking an active part in the work of NGOs.
The age of marriage for men and women was 18, she said. If good reasons were given, the age could be reduced, but not by more than two years. In all cases, a reduction o the marriage age was allowed only with the consent of those entering the marriage. Question of motherhood and fatherhood were resolved by the spouses jointly. The marriage and family law states that marriage can not take place when one person was already in a legal marriage. She could offer no statistics on the existence of polygamy in the country.
Overall, she said there was a lot being done by the Government of Kazakhstan to improve the status of women. Internal migration would drop as the country's economic situation improved, and the enactment of the death penalty was under review. She drew the experts’ attention to the statistical handbook that her delegation had made available and hoped that the experts would take a look at it.
She thought there had been a constructive dialogue on the problems that were being faced by Kazakhstan. The Government did intend to ratify the Optional Protocol of the Convention and would be eagerly awaiting the Committee’s final comments. Those comments, along with the report before the Committee, would be published and submitted the people of Kazakhstan.
Comments by Experts
Several experts thanked the Government of Kazakhstan for its extensive replies to the Committee’s questions. However, an expert thought that the issue of special measures to eliminate discrimination against women needed to be further addressed. She hoped that in the future, the country would use article 4.1 of the Convention to eliminate manifestations of hidden discrimination against women, such as lower wages for “women’s” sectors of employment.
Another speaker said that stereotypical exclusion of women from managerial positions was a cause of concern. It had been said that when women were highly qualified, they did not need special measures to provide for them. However, the Government should consider adopting special measures to rectify such problems as the recent economic decline in the country, which was affecting women severely.
It was also pointed out that constitutional rights of women should be enforced in the country. Another point of concern was the early retirement age of women, particularly those with children. Although the Government considered it “positive discrimination”, it brought up a question of gender inequality. Acknowledging the Government’s efforts to emphasize the women’s role as mothers and wives, she said that they could indirectly diminish the role of women in society.
The number of questions raised in the discussion testified to the interest in the position of women in Kazakhstan, an expert said. She hoped that the ratification of the Optional Protocol would take place in the near future. The truth was that the position of women in the country was far from ideal. However, having ratified the Convention, Kazakhstan had demonstrated its political will and commitment to eliminate the problems.
Women should enjoy all the human rights that the Convention guaranteed, she said, and it was important that Kazakhstan had taken legislative action to incorporate the provisions of the Convention into its legal system. Women’s economic equality and their participation in the economic development of the country were also very important.
Ms. SAMAKOVA then said that it was clear that the experts had devoted serious attention to the situation in Kazakhstan and that all their questions came from the heart. Once again, she wanted to thank Committee experts for their assessment of the report.
As for the low wages of women in such “feminine” sectors of employment as health and education, they were really low, but soon they would be increased by 30 per cent. She knew that it was not enough, but Kazakhstan was a young State, and the situation would improve in the future. To date, more than 40 per cent of civil service employees were women, and she hoped that their number would increase. As for the retirement age, many people were against the argument that it should be the same for women and men. Many women were very happy to retire at the age of 50, receiving a pension from the State.
Many questions relating to the improvement of the status of women represented a high priority for her Government, she continued. The country had a good legislation, and the main job today was to live according to those laws. Legislation would be further refined in accordance with the Convention. She hoped that the next report of her country would show significant progress for the advancement of women.
AYSE FERIDE ACAR, an expert from Turkey, Acting Chairperson of the Committee, remarked on the constructive character of the discussion this afternoon. She said that Kazakhstan’s commitment to ratify the Optional Protocol
was very welcome. The political will in implementing the Convention was obvious, and the country now had a strong foundation to build upon in the future. As several experts had pointed out, in order to fully comply with the demands of the Convention, it was necessary to incorporate the definition of the discrimination in the national legislation, and it was gratifying that the country intended to look into that matter.
Efforts to strengthen the national machinery were also encouraging, she said. She welcomed the fact that prosecution of rape was ensured by the public prosecutor irrespective of the complaint by the victim. According to the Convention, it was a responsibility of the Government to work towards changing the traditional attitudes towards women, and she hoped that work would continue in that respect. High education did not automatically ensure high payment, and it was necessary to address that problem.
Violence against women and trafficking in women and children had been mentioned by several speakers, she continued. As the country was making efforts to combat that phenomenon, she hoped to hear more about it at the presentation of its next report. The delegation had already “pre-empted” the usual recommendation of the Committee regarding disseminating information about the Convention by mentioning intended actions in that respect. The efforts of the Government were to be commended, and they were an optimistic indicator for the future of the young country in question.
In conclusion, Ms. SAMAKOVA expressed gratitude to all the international agencies that had provided assistance to her country.
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