Committee is generally 'encouraged' by Russian Federation report, but concerned over Chechnya, women's access to senior positions

Twenty-sixth Session, 543rd and 544th Meetings (AM and PM)
It was encouraging to see that the Government of Russia considered the recent radical change in the country "as a time of opportunity for women," the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women heard as it considered the fifth periodic report of the Russian Federation during two meetings today.

One of the Committee's 23 experts said a major concern was to ensure that the anti-discrimination process was not slowed down by periods of social transition, and that women's human rights were not violated or overlooked. What happened in Russia had a ripple effect on many countries in the region. The Committee was therefore very pleased with the positive developments taking place there.

Expressing hope that Russia would play its national and international role "to the optimum", many speakers stressed the importance of the political status and huge potential of Russia, which ratified the Convention in 1980 and signed the Optional Protocol to that instrument on 8 May 2001. [The Protocol entitles the Committee to conduct inquiries into grave or systematic violations of the Convention and to consider individual and group petitions in those cases, when all national remedies have been exhausted.]

Introducing the reports, Galina Karelova, First Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Development of the Russian Federation, updated the Committee on the latest developments, saying that following an unprecedented transition from a planned economy to democracy and a market system, the despair and fear of the beginning of the 1990s had been replaced by a sense of optimism. The country's women took an active part in the reforms, and for the first time, there was a real chance to improve the status of women within the country.

She described the Government's new social policies, saying that the standard of living and the income of the population had increased lately. The country had adopted a new Labour Code and undertaken a pension system reform. Targets had been determined to bring the country out of its demographic crisis through measures to stimulate the birthrate and provide assistance to families, improve the health of the population and reduce maternal and infant mortality.

However, the advancement of women to positions of power and violence against women remained among the country's concerns, she said. Women were victims of 40 per cent of premeditated murders. In 2001, about 65,000 women had appealed to the newly created violence centre network in search of help. The country was reviewing its laws to protect women and children from all forms of violence.

Also, the authorities had found themselves unprepared to confront the growing problems of trafficking in women and prostitution, in which organized crime groups were involved. Under Russia's laws, a woman involved in prostitution could be subjected to a fine. Keeping brothels was prohibited by law, but the punishment for pimping was not covered by the legal code, and criminals were taking advantage of that situation. Now, work was under way to close that gap.

Wondering if specific efforts were undertaken in Russia to achieve a more equal distribution of family tasks, a speaker said that the transitional period had affected women more negatively than the men. The situation was exacerbated by traditional stereotypes, which placed both household chores and care of children on the shoulders of women. Unless provided with an "equal starting point", women could not achieve real equality in the working place.

Speakers also raised numerous questions about the situation of women in Chechnya and expressed concern over high abortion rates and the spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Russia. On the question of Chechnya, it was said that while reassuring information about the region had been provided by the Russian delegation, the latest press reports testified to the gravity of the situation there. Questions were also asked about women within the penal system, the problem of poverty, and the use of contraceptives in Russia.

At 10 a.m. on Monday, 28 January, the Committee will take up Sri Lanka's combined third and fourth periodic reports.


Taking up the implementation of the Convention by the Russian Federation, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this morning began its consideration of that country's fifth periodic report, covering the period 1994 through 1998.

Reporting on the measures taken to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the document describes the situation in the country, which has been characterized by the transition to a market economy and by social reforms. Shortages of budgetary resources placed severe restrictions on the Government's socially-oriented policies. The banking and financial crisis of 1998 caused galloping price rises, a rise in inflation and a drop in consumer purchasing power.

According to the report, such unfavourable changes have led to a declining birth rate against a background of a growing number of women of childbearing age who are unwilling to have children. Women account for 47 per cent of those employed in the economy. Sixty-six per cent of working-age women are employed. Working women have a higher level of education than men. However, since the official recognition of unemployment in Russia following the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, its main feature has been the predominance of women in the total number of those unemployed.

In 1994-1998, the country (within the limits of its resources) introduced legislative and administrative measures to improve the status of women, protect their rights and cushion the impact of the critical social situation. A number of presidential decrees were enacted to achieve those goals, and the country's Duma adopted a legislative framework outline to ensure equal rights and equal opportunities for men and women. In 2000, a national plan for the advancement of women was adopted. Efforts were made to prohibit discrimination by reason of sex.

Regarding the national machinery for the advancement of women, the report states that during the period under review, work continued on the consolidation of institutions entrusted with ensuring equal opportunities for women and eliminating discrimination against them. Since 1993, a Commission for Women, the Family and Demography has been operating in the Office of the President. It is an advisory body responsible for formulating and coordinating State policies in its area of expertise. Since 1996, the Ministry of Labour and Social Development has had a department for women's, children's and family issues. Ministries and departments responsible for social affairs also have sections dealing with women's problems. During the period under review, there was a big increase in the activity of women's non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and public associations. A network of agencies providing social services for women and children has significantly expanded, increasing from 107 to 2,079.

According to the document, the role of women in decision-making remains insignificant in Russia. Their representation in senior State posts is incommensurate with their real contribution to the process of social development. Elements of discrimination by reason of sex persist in employment. Some practices in the recruitment and dismissal of women, especially pregnant ones, infringe on the legislation of the Russian Federation. Another source of concern is the substantial deterioration in the situation of rural women.

About 30 per cent of Russian women are unemployed, poor and live alone. The incomes of this category of women are often limited to the available social benefits, and most of them live below the poverty line. Concrete forms of social support are needed to address their problems.

The document further provides information about the health situation in the country, according to which, despite a well-developed network of hospitals and diagnostic centres, women's health is deteriorating in Russia. More than half of women of childbearing age suffer from gynaecological ailments, and the morbidity rate has risen over the past five years. There have been increases in the number of women suffering from tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. At the same time, the family planning services have continued to expand. The number of self-induced abortions has declined, along with the general incidence of such operations. It is particularly important that the number of self-induced abortions among young girls 14 and under has fallen by 38 per cent.

The changes in Russia's education system involve a shift in its purposes and values, the forms of delivery and management methods, the report states. As a result of the ongoing privatization of pre-school institutions and budgetary problems, the kindergarten coverage of children in the 1-6 age group has fallen from 56 per cent in 1994 to 54 per cent in 1997. However, despite the social changes, the country has managed to preserve the State system of pre-school education.

Cruelty and violence against women, especially "routine violence in the family", remain a serious problem. Every year, 14,000 women die at the hands of their husbands and other relatives. Sociological surveys show that up to 30 per cent of married women are regularly subjected to physical violence. The situation is exacerbated by the lack of statistics and by the attitude of the agencies of law and order to this problem, for they tend to view such violence not as a crime, but as a "private matter" between the spouses.

The scale of unlawful transport of Russian women to other countries for sexual exploitation continues to grow, the report further states. The solution to this problem lies in the war against organized crime, which requires all players involved to pool their efforts. Both the countries of origin of the "living goods" and the countries of destination should participate in such efforts.

Introduction of Reports

As more than two years had passed since Russia had submitted its report, GALINA KARELOVA, First Deputy Minister, Ministry of Labour and Social Development of the Russian Federation, provided some recent information regarding the situation in her country. Following an unprecedented transition from a planned economy to democracy and a market system, the standard of living and available monetary incomes had increased in recent years, she said. The country had adopted a new Labour Code and undertaken a pension system reform. The targets had been determined to bring the country out of its demographic crisis by measures to stimulate the birthrate and provide assistance to families, improve the health of the population and reduce maternal and infant mortality.

According to forecasts, the social policies for 2002-2006 would lead to further improvement of the well-being of the people, she said. Planned expansion of social services would lead to increased support for the poor sectors of the population. The country's civil society was taking an active part in efforts to resolve its major economic and social problems. Today, it was difficult to find an area of social life where positive changes were not taking place in Russia. The despair and fear of the beginning of the 1990s had been replaced by a sense of optimism. The country's women took an active part in the reforms, and it was not surprising that women's movements had revived in recent years. On the whole, dialogue between the authorities and women's NGOs had become a standard in Russia. It could be said that for the first time, there was a real chance to improve the status of women within the country.

Following the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women, the main priorities for the advancement of women had been singled out in Russia, including women's participation in decision-making; ensuring women's rights in the labour market; and prevention of violence against women. As a result of the Government's efforts, women's participation in political life had increased. Candidates from three women's organizations had been registered in the last Duma elections. The number of women candidates at the regional level had also increased. There was a tendency towards an increase in the share of women executives within the ministries.

However, despite the fact that under a recently adopted law, men and women had equal rights to be elected to all positions of political power, so far the country had found it difficult to achieve a gender balance within the Duma. At present, only five women were represented there, compared with 178 men. Advancement of women to positions of power remained a priority problem, and a concept of personnel policy was being discussed within the country. Special courses on gender aspects of management had been organized, which, it was hoped, would expand women's access to high-level positions.

There had been a reduction in women's unemployment rate from 46.1 per cent in 1998 to 44 per cent in 2000, she said. The Government was undertaking measures to deal with unemployment to prevent the worsening of the situation in the future. Among its efforts were programmes taking into account the needs of such sectors of the population as women with small and disabled children. Federal projects had been initiated to encourage employment of the poorest women. In the years of reform, an infrastructure had been formed, helping women to adapt to the market economy. Gender aspects were being taken into account in preparing new labour legislation. The new Labour Code limited the number of prohibitions for women in the workplace and required women's assent to overtime and night work.

To reduce the scope of poverty, in the last two years the minimum wage had seen a 250 per cent increase. A system of compensation for the housing costs had been introduced for poor citizens, and tax legislation had been reviewed in order to relieve the burden on the underprivileged. There was a tendency of increasing subsidies for children and other social payments.

She said that in the transition years, the quality of health of the population on the whole had worsened. On the other hand, there had been a positive dynamic in the reproductive health of women. The targeted work of the Government had led to a decrease in the number of abortions, which had been reduced to 50.5 per 1,000 women of fertile age in 2000. Some 23 per cent of women used effective methods of contraception. Efforts were being made to ensure access to health services for rural women. Among the priorities was the reduction of birth pathology, as well as maternal and infant mortality. There was also a roster of jobs which might have a negative effect on workers' health.

Also important were the problems of HIV/AIDS and drug addiction, she said. The ratio between men and women infected with the disease was 4 to 1. In order to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, a federal law was adopted in 1995, and a federal programme was developed to combat that disease. Under the current laws, working women with HIV/AIDS had an additional 16-day maternal leave in addition to the regular 70-day leave with pay provided to all new mothers. Drugs required to prevent transmission of the disease from mother to child were purchased by the country. Russia intended to study world experience and implement the best practices. The main problem in curbing the epidemic was the shortage of budgetary resources; assistance of international organizations was important in that respect.

Regarding violence against women, she said that today the authorities, society and the mass media were focusing on that problem. The data indicated that some 70 per cent of women had encountered the problem at some time in their lives. Women were victims of 40 per cent of premeditated murders. Many crimes were committed for reasons of jealousy and disputes in the home. The number of rapes and attempted rapes was 8.3 per thousand in 1999. The Government and NGOs were creating a network of crisis centres to help the victims of violence, and in 2001, 65,000 women had appealed to those bodies in search of help.

The State and society as a whole must face up to that situation, she said. First of all, legal action was required. A new bill to address the problem had been discussed at the last session of the Duma, with women's organizations participating in the discussion. The drafting and adoption of the bill were extremely difficult, however, for there was a clash between two main approaches: one seeking to make the laws harsher and the other focusing on an effective preventive approach and protecting people from violence in the home. The first approach had prevailed, and the country was reviewing its laws to protect women and children from all forms of violence.

Criminal responsibility was being tightened for violent crimes, particularly in cases of special vulnerability of victims. Severe sentences were envisioned for sexual crimes against women and minors. Punishments had also been introduced for the trafficking of minors. An important aspect of the problem was the need to stop glamorizing violence through printed media and television. Today, the country was working on compiling statistics regarding the victims of violence. Previously, only the data against the perpetrators had been gathered.

The problem of prostitution and sexual exploitation of women and children was of great importance in the country, she said. In 1953, when the Soviet Union had acceded to the international convention on the trafficking in people and prostitution, nobody could imagine that Russia would be facing prostitution on a large scale. About 55,000 were suspected of being involved in prostitution in 2000 in Moscow. Having been detained for prostitution, 605 underage girls were also sent to special children's centres. The sex industry had been taken over by organized crime, and the State had found itself unprepared to effectively combat that phenomenon.

Abiding by the 1949 Convention, the country could not legalize prostitution, she continued, having undertaken to wipe out that social evil and punish all those involved in it. Under Russia's laws, prostitution was considered an administrative offence, and a woman involved in prostitution could be fined a small amount of money. Keeping brothels was prohibited by law, but the punishment for pimping was not covered by the criminal code, and criminals were taking advantage of that situation. Now, work was under way to close that legal gap.

The Government had also recently taken up the growing problem of Russian women being exported for sexual exploitation, she said. The mass media were asked by the Commission on the Advancement of Women to publicize the legal rules to inform women of possible consequences of going abroad in search of work and provide them with information about the aid available to them. Measures were being taken against the organization serving as a front for brothels. Russia had signed the protocol to the international convention on the prevention of transnational organized crime on the trafficking of people, she added.

National mechanisms for the advancement of women had been recently expanded and strengthened. For instance, the Department on Women's and Children's Affairs was now operating at the Office of the Chairman of the Federation. Structures were being established to develop policies to improve the status of women, including the inter-ministerial commission to coordinate regional plans in that respect. Women's round tables were being organized, which served as ongoing negotiating forums between the authorities and women's organizations. The second national plan of action for the advancement of women had been adopted for 2001-2005.

Comments by Experts

Acting Chairperson AYSE FERIDE ACAR (Turkey) congratulated the Government for presenting a report prepared in accordance with the Committee's guidelines. The oral presentation had further updated the Committee on developments regarding women in Russia. The Government had shown its commitment to the Convention by removing its reservation to Article 29 and by fulfilling its reporting obligations. Russia had signed the Optional Protocol and she encouraged the Government to step up efforts for its speedy ratification. The large size of the high-level delegation also testified to the Government's commitment to the Convention.

"Radical change" was the term used by the delegation to describe the country's transition, she said. No one would disagree. She was encouraged that the Government saw the process of radical change as a time of opportunity for women. The Committee felt the same way. The Committee was vigilant in ensuring that the implementation of the Convention was not slowed down by the process of transition, and that women's human rights were not violated or overlooked. The Committee's inquiries and concerns regarding many aspects of women's life during the time of radical change stemmed from that motivation. What happened in Russia was a precursor, and had a ripple effect on many countries in the region. The Committee was therefore very pleased with the positive developments taking place in the Russian Federation.

Experts congratulated Russia on the advances it had made during a difficult period and the substantial political will it had displayed. Russia had used the legal system to catalyze equality for women. The law, however, must not only be put in place, but also be a live tool for realizing equality.

One expert was concerned that women in Russia were not using the remedies available to them. In the areas of employment, she was concerned about the problem of back wages. The report did not include clear information on equality of wages. If the law was in place, why were women not using the procedures to ensure gender equality? Legal aid must be provided. Why were women not challenging the lack of equality in the hiring process? In light of the emergence of the private sector, the accountability of the private sector must be addressed.

Regarding legislation against violence, specifically the law on accountability, the report did not indicate whether law enforcement officers could be charged. If law enforcement officials were the perpetrators of violence, were they held accountable? A lack of accountability on the part of law enforcement officers would make it difficult to track the phenomenon of trafficking in women.

In Russia's family law, was there a fixed concept of maintenance? The report did not clarify the interface between family law and laws on violence.

Another expert said the specific structural problems of discrimination against women were not consistently recognized as requiring separate attention and legislation. There was no specific domestic violence violation as such, nor was there specific legislation on employment, equal pay and the prohibition of sexual harassment. The wage gap was an urgent problem requiring specific legislation. Regarding domestic violence legislation, separate domestic legislation with separate procedures would bring the need for effective social prevention more clearly into focus. Regarding the prosecution of rape, had legislation been revised regarding the rules of evidence? All those issues, when considered in separate legislation, would result in the use of the law as tool of education.

On health issues, the expert noted that it was the policy of the Government to lower the use of abortion as the major method of birth control. Was the cost of contraceptives the reason for the low number of women using them? Was it that abortions were free? Perhaps budgetary resources could be shifted to make birth control more available. Would the description of HIV/AIDS as a social illness associated with drug abuse deter women from seeking help? There seemed to be a stigmatizing approach to the treatment of AIDS.

Regarding the political representation act, to what extent was it obligatory? There seemed to be some reluctance to regard women's problems as a distinct structural problem.

Another expert congratulated Russia for giving the Convention increased publicity. Regarding the role of national machinery, when machinery was "strong enough" with clear legal and political status, change was more swift. National machinery must be included in legal reforms so as to accelerate the implementation of the Convention. Greater mobilization and preparation of women to enter the political field was needed. Even if they faced backlash there was hope. Gender issues must receive greater attention in Russia's policy for political representation. While many efforts had been made to implement new legislation, it seemed that the Government was waiting for events to resolve the problem of existing patriarchal sentiments. Democracy could not be enhanced unless women's problems were solved with speed.

Regarding education, she was concerned with the school drop-out rate. There was a great number of minors who should have been schooled. Some young child refugees and forcibly displaced persons were not receiving education. Where were they from? What was the procedure for granting asylum, and was there a difference between male and female asylum speakers?

Regarding the prevalence of domestic violence, when 14,000 women died from domestic violence, it could not be considered a "private matter", the expert added. What were the reasons for the spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis? How was the spread of alcohol being combated? How many women prisoners were there? Gender mainstreaming must proceed at a quicker pace, especially regarding the elderly and the disabled.

Russia had an important political status and huge potential, another expert said. She hoped that Russia would play its national and international role to the optimum. Although the report had not met all her expectations, the conclusion of the report was frank, clear and useful. The oral presentation answered many of her questions, especially regarding violence against women. She was concerned also with the political participation of women. Legislation should be implemented and machinery activated. Regarding the role of civil society, the number of NGOs working in Russia was not clear. Russia was a multi-ethnic State with many minorities. The rights of minorities, especially women, must be given special attention. Violence against women was a priority issue. The problem of alcoholism also required more legislative action.

Regarding the situation in Chechnya, the Government had not answered the Committee's question satisfactorily. She expected more explanation on Chechnyan women refugees. Did the delegation have information on violence, and what was the Government's plan for preventing violence in the future?

Country Response

Ms. KARELOVA appreciated the comments on Russia's laws as well as the Committee's understanding of the real problems Russia currently faced. The Russian Federation would be submitting a new report in the current year. Many of the questions asked today would be taken into account when preparing that report.

On legislation to eliminate discrimination against women, she said ensuring equality for women and men derived from the norms of international law, enshrined in the Constitution. The laws of Russia must not contain any provision which legally infringed upon the equality of the sexes. There was an obligation for the legislature, judiciary and law enforcement agencies to abide by the laws. Legal protection for the rights of women was provided for and the penal code established criminal responsibility for violating the rights of citizens on the basis of gender. It also provided for accountability for an unjustified refusal to hire pregnant women or women with young children. The way the laws were applied in Russia was far from perfect.

In practice, the laws ensuring the protection of women were often not applied, she continued. Now, an enormous amount of work was needed to change prevailing stereotypes and to make women aware of the legal norms. As such efforts needed to start with children at an early age, the country intended to introduce gender education courses at all school levels. Measures were also planned to involve the media, the NGOs and labour associations in that work.

Another important issue was the problem of uns